Category Archives: Forts

Just Fortin’ Around at the Play Outpost

Most days are still in the single digit celsius zone. Cheeks are burnished a ruddy healthsome hue. Chill wind and cool water stiffen numbing fingers. On the ground, a muddy patina where grass is worn bare. Above, the dreamy blue sky bursts with promise.

A small play posse of about ten kids in the six to thirteen-year-old age range are bivouacking in the backyard. Free of cumbersome winter clothes, there is a spontaneous reclaiming of the outdoors.

They are out everyday now playing for hours on end. There are the breathless games like mantracker and 50 – 50, impromptu soccer and basketball matches and the building of forts, dens and clubs. These almost exotic spring awakening rites embrace the season’s new possibilities.

 

The familiar ring of the kids-at-play chorus modulates between a sometimes rambunctious soundscape and a whispery taking stock. Occasionally observed by us adult types but rarely disturbed, they are free to imagine, to create, to make the world in their own image.

On this day, chalk is a key element in their periodic table of play. At first it is put through its conventional paces. Printing and drawing on the fence in all available colours is de rigueur. Then a stick of chalk is reduced, mortar and pestle style, into a dusty powder. It’s only moments before the powder is in turn transformed into a pasty liquid wash and applied liberally to various surfaces with the excited participation of all present.

The yard is a convening space, a place where the kids can be themselves to explore, goof around and kick back unsupervised. It’s communal in a sense – friends hang there when our kids aren’t out, or we’re not at home. We like to think of it as an equal opportunity play outpost.

Old household furniture is cycled into the backyard until its play value is exhausted and it’s shifted curbside. A couple of old sofas that have gone through their second outdoor winter are foundation pieces for the build, modify, rebuild fortin’ around. Loose parts – lumber, old tires, milk crates, cable spools, tarps , cardboard and rope – are the stuff of daily dreaming helping to give physical form to imagined space.

Several days pass with the fort as focal point. There are design adjustments, new adornments and reconfigurations. The kids are getting restless though, looking for new activities. It’s off to the woods, the brook to other friends’ houses. We tear down the fort and store the parts in the shed. In the not too distant future another fort will rise and we’ll hear the sowing of dreams as the neighbourhood kids explore, discover, create.

I am thankful that I had the opportunity to learn about loose parts a few years back from the good folks at Pop-Up Adventure Play. They encouraged me to get out in the community and give the loose parts a whirl at public events. Thankful too that the kids have space to run free.

I am grateful to live in Nova Scotia where through a combination of collective action by Nova Scotians, a crackerjack public health team, responsible management by the government and undoubtedly some good luck we have been able to weather the COVID storm with much less devastation than other parts of the country and world. Despite our best efforts, Nova Scotia went into a new lockdown earlier this week in a bid to turn back recent community spread.

COVID continues to be an ongoing health crisis in communities around the world. Its after effects will rumble for some time. Among these are social isolation experienced by children and their inability to play due to prolonged periods of time in lockdowns and absences from school. Spring awakenings and the resumption of play will pick up steam as greater swathes of the population are vaccinated and the immediate crisis begins to recede. Let’s get ready and think what that might look like in our own communities.

On May 13, join Dalhousie University’s Dr. Sarah Moore for a virtual event presenting research that considers “evidence-based recommendations and strategies for return to movement, play, sport, and recreation and discusses the important role of community supports during the COVID-19 pandemic and recovery period.” More info available here.

In the UK, Helen Dodd is a Professor in the School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences at the University of Reading and an advocate of putting children at the heart of the recovery. Along with colleagues at PlayFirst UK, she has been raising the alarm about the pandemic’s mental health impacts on children and the benefits of adventurous play. She will make a plenary presentation at the upcoming Play 2021 conference in Birmingham, England, July 7 and 8.

Worlds Of Their Own Making

It is a grand day. Together, my son, my papa and I join forces to make a bow and arrow. It is something our lad has been wanting for too long. We find the perfect sapling in the beaver lands, a small stand of birch and alders close by the shore of a suburban lake. The green sapling has plenty of spring and is just the right size.

Back in Grampa’s garage, Noah uses his new lock blade knife, an axe my papa has just given him and a few simple tools to transform that sapling into an archer’s bow. Outside he draws back the bow string and lets fly his first shot. It whistles up the side of the house and into the backyard. His face is radiant. His eyes sparkle. He paces off the distance – 17 metres.

The bow, and the arrow made of dowel rod are his newest treasured possessions. Not far behind are the knife and axe firmly situated in the pantheon of wow. In the outdoors world of a young boy he has become rich beyond the singing of it.

With fort season upon us, the bow and arrow (version 1.0) will be a home-made toy of choice as he and his friends play in the woods in a world of their making. I will have to come to terms about identifying the appropriate time for the knife and axe to leave our property in his hands. I’m not ready to do so yet.

Stay tuned later this spring for the next instalment of when will knife and axe travel with the added bonus of a 1970s perspective on ‘worlds of their own making’.

Until then, enjoy the outdoors and time spent together…

Fort Summer

This is a love story….

In the soft light at end of day shadows slowly stretch. Under the tree is a makeshift shelter. It’s empty now no boys or girls stamping their dreams on this space. But I still hear young voices calling back and forth. They are marshalling for the build, gathering the good wood, the junk and even some bits and pieces that are surely beyond the pale.

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Abandoned materials consort with store bought lumber and natural fibres pulled from the scrub land floor. Ferns hang upside down slowly withering, their dripping green a potent camouflage. A branch horizontal to the packed dirt floor allows a look-out to survey all approaches unseen behind a leafy blind.

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Hammer heads ring off 6-inch galvanized nails pounded with gusto. And there is a halting sing of saw as blade bites into board. Occasionally there is a shout for some adult help – a nail not sufficiently hit home, a heavy and cumbersome accessory immune to the straining muscles of young boys.

But make no mistake, this hybrid space of tree, fence, earth and sundry scrap open to sun and stars is a hide-out, castle, resting place, an escape, a sanctuary, a homestead, a club, a wondrous made-by-kids kinda place.

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A rifle and helmet adorn the wall and a tipsy table is a snacking spot, a gather round and sit to plan and plot ambushes, attacks and marauding sorties through bracken, over stones, around trees.

Each day adventure glows steady here like a burning coal. Pounding hearts on the run burst with excitement. Bright, awakened eyes feverish with daylight imaginings see an impregnable fortress in the corner of the backyard. When I let go, breathe deeply and squint my eyes just so, it’s what I see too.

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Kids love to create their worlds far from prying eyes. They love to build, to experiment, to shape their day, and unselfconsciously personify play. ….this is Fort Summer, a love story.

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Close your eyes, think back, was there a Fort Summer in your world?

The Village

It is only accessible by foot after a short trek through elders, balsam firs and scrub brush. Then it’s there before you, almost camouflage. The stream skirting the space runs fast now with winter melt and frequent rains. The water rattles over the rocks and whispers under the footbridge of fallen trees.

DSC03139The Weaponry with original siding

It’s here that the boys are building The Village. It started with two found pieces of siding. Nestled in the branches and leaning against trees, they become walls. Scavenging is now a favourite activity. New items have a structural, or decorative use and some become part of the weaponry. The Weaponry is one of The Village’s three rooms. It’s the place where tools are made. Note the garbage can lid shield and a bucket for sharpened spears.

Next to The Weaponry is The Lodge. It seems to be more about relaxation, less about imaginary warfare. A scraggly Christmas wreath made of woven synthetic wired fabric greets visitors at the main entrance. Just over the threshold there is a tattered old deck chair cushion faded yet serviceable. It’s a good place to grab a seat as it acts as a barrier to the wet, spongy ground.

DSC03153A makeshift chair offers an inviting spot to rest

The Lodge has a great view too, a vista of the water rushing past. It’s so close you can dip and dangle your fingers. This is a place of found objects – branches of trees, old crumbling logs, rocks, plastic pails, real estate signs, curved handles from shovels, a broken radio, a hubcap, siding and yes, a wreath. But check out the view of the water.

Across from The Weaponry and The Lodge is The Lumbershop. Here we see a few old logs standing on end. We’re told they are the raw material for tools. We’re on a 3G tour with our lad Noah showing myself and my papa all the sights. To Noah’s chagrin, his two young sisters and one of their friends are tagging along. He is not keen on either of them knowing the location.

DSC03159The Lumbershop

Noah stumbled across the location for The Village during one of the countless games of hide and seek and thought it would be a good place to build. The land is barren scrub. It’s located just a stone’s throw away from backyards. The kids are explorers but not too deep in the wilderness. From Noah’s perspective, there are a few things that are needed for The Village to prosper: a better pocket knife, or a saw; a bow and arrow and a target. There is a rudimentary washroom for boys but most prefer just to go in the woods.

In recent days, The Village has competed successfully against road hockey for our lad’s attention. With warmer weather on the horizon, we’re sure it won’t be long until he’s asking to take out picnic lunches to the hideaway that we can almost see from our back verandah.

DSC03161The Lodge with welcome wreath on right

Earlier in the week, just after the project had got underway, I asked our lad how the fort was coming along. “It’s the village, papa,” he replied with an emphasis that indicated that this distinction should be self-evident to me.

It takes a child to make a village of objects found lying about. What is junk, scraps and waste to adult eyes are riches beyond the imagining of it for kids on the build. In this village great things are happening – play, friendship, discovery, independence, resourcefulness….

DSC03154Looks like one of Dad’s 2x4x8s is part of one of The Village’s walls

I’m looking forward to news about The Village in the days to come. I’m curious too to see what other materials take a migratory path from our backyard to the new for the kids, by the kids space. Long live The Village!