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. What’s even better, making and playing in a secret, outdoor shelter takes on a whole new power for kids. When you do it right, this activity is far more than staying dry and warm. The shelter is merely a starting place for out-of-this-world sensory exploration, authentic experimentation, and magical make believe.
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 tall dads holding umbrellas, in lieu of trees. It’s on us to teach our kids to follow the rules that protect our parks.
The very act of doing something to make weather more manageable builds self reliance 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, secret, outdoor space invites unlimited imaginary play—the shelter can become an animal’s den, a little house, or a rocket ship to the moon.
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!Email it to me