To kids, few things are as captivating as an honest-to-goodness fort. They might call it the clubhouse, the hideaway or any of a thousand secret names, but it's all the same--a place built by them, for them, using easy-to-find materials, a few tools and lots of imagination. Like the two-room fort you see here, built of sticks, rocks, rope and that most prized of childhood possessions, an old refrigerator box.
As special as it is to kids, we parents sometimes need to be reminded of what a fort is all about. (We're getting older and, well, forgetful at times.) Fortunately, kids know it's their duty to set us straight--politely, of course. As a writer of children's books and a former teacher who has spent more than his share of time around kid fort-builders, I've sat in on many of these Forts 101 adult education courses. Here's what I've learned.
LESSON NUMBER 1: Nothing can compare to a fort that kids make by hand with stuff they find lying around (not something ordered out of a catalog and delivered by two men in a big truck). Of course, kids can always ask for their parents' help, especially if Mom or Dad has some extra plywood lying around or some cool tools the kids need to borrow.
LESSON NUMBER 2: There's more than one way to use a fort. Sometimes kids want privacy; other times they want a gathering spot, a play area or a sprawling camp-out shelter.
LESSON NUMBER 3: There are some things about a fort that a kid can't divulge. These include how to open the secret storage vault that holds the club's treasures, or the fort's secret password, handshakes and knocks.
LESSON NUMBER 4: Forts are first and foremost for fun. Keeping this in mind, some kids might just decide to forget the secret stuff and make their fort a public place, open to anybody, even grown-ups.
LESSON NUMBER 5: If it's a real, honest-to-goodness fort, no one ever wants to leave.
SAFETY NOTE TO KIDS As with most things that are fun, building a fort has its hazards, too. So be careful: Think before you begin, ask for help with tools, and have an adult inspect your fort (just like they do with real houses) before you move in.