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Cozy Hideaway

Age: 0 to 8+ Time: 1 hour+
Materials: tarp, bungee cords (2-4), tent stakes (optional), rope (optional)
Skills: Imagination, Self Reliance, Persistence & Grit

It can be hard to get up the nerve to be outdoors on a windy, rainy or cold day. Just like our fellow animals, if we construct a simple shelter in which to hunker down we can bear the elements. And, to human parents and kids, that very experience is wildly empowering.

Fortunately for us parents, we don’t have to be US Marines to know how to create a well functioning, simple shelter quickly. Although, lucky for us, Brian, Tinkergarten team member and former Marine created a quick how-to video to help anyone turn a tarp, some rope and/or bungee cords and stakes into a solid shelter.

If you are in a public park, please check the rules to make sure you can attach things gently to trees. If not, you’ll need to adapt these models, using other objects like picnic tables, boulders, benches, and even adults, in lieu of trees.

The Guide

  1. Prepare: Pack materials. Dress for success. Check out our tips for cold days or cool, wet days.
  2. Gather a group: This activity is magical with just one parent and one child, but it can be really fun to get a group of folks together to pull it off.
  3. Wee ones: If you have children under the age of 3, you can set up the shelter ahead of time. As you are hiking, you can stumble up on the shelter. Little ones will get plenty from discovering, experiencing and playing with the shelter.
  4. Preschoolers +: If you have kids ages 3 and up or a mixed group, welcome kids into the planning and building process. Our favorite way to add a little magic and put kids in control is to throw all of the materials needed and a note from the Forest Fairies into a large bag (sleeping bag cover, pillow case), then tuck the bag somewhere outdoors. While hiking, you’ll stumble upon the bag and read the note, which introduces the materials as those meant to build a hideout. Then, involve kids in imagining, planning and building a shelter using those materials. Try to have kids do as much as they can, gently asking questions to guide their process as needed. If all falls apart, you can always suggest one of the simple structures in our video.
  5. Play: Once the shelter is up, let kids have at it. Welcome them to enter/exit/repeat and just play for a while. Listen to the rain or wind as they interact with the shelter you've built. Feel cozy and enjoy.
  6. Pretend: Ask questions like, "What kind of animals could we be in a shelter like this?" or "What kind of creatures would just love to live in a shelter like ours?" to inspire imaginary play.
  7. Snack: Sharing food and warm tea in your shelter sweetens the experience and the memories!

Why is this activity great for kids?

The very act of doing something to make weather more manageable build self-reliance, grit and the mindset that even the wet or windy days are great times to be outdoors. Further, these are the days kids will remember and talk about most—their senses on fire as you sit close together, listen to the rain drops plunk down on the tarp, and sip warm, blueberry tea. When do they get to do things like that? It doesn’t get more memorable to kids.

When you engage older children in the planning of your shelter, they develop creativity, communication and even collaborative skills. Further, young children worldwide get highly engaged in the work of enclosing themselves within small, cozy spaces, and for good reason, as this act has positive physical, psychological and cognitive impact.

As a guide to your child’s play, you also have the powerful opportunity to ask “What if?”, welcoming them to observe what happens when you change your shelter in various ways. Finally, creating this new, super special outdoor space invites imaginary play—the shelter can become an animal’s den, a little house, or a rocket ship to the moon.

Do This Activity In A Class

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Learn how to support your child’s development in mixed age groups along with other like-minded parents.
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Do It Yourself

We think all families should be learning outside. Try this activity with your child and begin to see the power in outdoor, play-based learning. Have fun!