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3 Great Indoor Kid Forts

An indoor activity for young children, perfect for winter

1. Sheet Music
Building is three-quarters of the fun, so having lots of structural elements available gets a kid's architectural juices flowing. (If you're serious about supporting fort building, then allocate a trunk or big box for supplies.) Frayed sheets, worn-out blankets, and yellowed quilts in abundance will do the trick. It's nice to provide a yardstick, Wiffle bat, broom handles, or foam noodles to prop up sagging roofs. Think harem tent as the architectural style. Inside, the fluffier, the better. The idea is to cover every last bit of floor and corner with something soft so you can cuddle up, roll around, and giggle with no hard surfaces or edges to spoil the fun.

The simplest indoor fort is a card table draped with a sheet. Similarly, the space between two twin beds can be a snuggly nest when a quilt becomes the rug and a fitted sheet creates a roof. Feeling a bit more ambitious, Wondertime testers pulled a couch away from the wall, set up one heavy chair facing the couch, and used another chair to join the two in a horseshoe. They stretched a fitted queen-size sheet over the top and secured it by the elasticized edges. Foam noodles propped against pillows and chair and couch arms kept the roof elevated. Under the sheet, kid testers climbed on the couch or frolicked in a sea of pillows on the floor.

When your structure is complete, let there be light — flashlights or battery lanterns. (No open flames!) Finally, having a snack inside sanctifies the fort as a special place. You won't believe how scrumptious peanut butter and crackers tastes in the hushed twilight of Couchpillow Land. And stories told down under are that much more memorable.

2. Tunnel Vision
Once they're masters of keeping walls upright and preventing roof sag, your children might enjoy a new challenge. Remember Steve McQueen's tunneling to freedom in The Great Escape? Instead of silverware for digging, you'll just need more of the same kinds of materials mentioned above, plus lots of additional chairs and pillows.

The idea is to get from one place to another bycrawling through a shrouded netherworld — from the living room to the den, from Michael's bedroom to Vanessa's. The longer the tunnel, the better. Try using a line of kitchen and folding chairs with several flat sheets thrown over the top. For a darker tunnel, use blankets (camping headlamps make this a true underworld experience), but for younger kids who want a little light, the sheets work best.

If you've got a high tolerance for dishevelment, consider creating a circuit of pillows, chairs, blankets, and other assorted stuff throughout the house--from the living room, down the hall to the kids' room, and then into the kitchen. (One family of testers sent their tunnel straight to the refrigerator for easy snack access. Mom could see the door opening but couldn't tell who was helping themselves or to what.)

Remember Hot Lava? The tunnel version of this game is to see if you can create an enclosed, continuous tunnel in which you can go all the way from the kitchen to the den to the hallway to grandmother's room and back into the kitchen without ever seeing the light of day or touching the floor. Try not to blame me if you can't find your favorite pillow when it's time for bed.

3. BoxSweetBox
Not a fan of sneaker-stamped bedding? There's another way. Often noted for play potential, the washing machine or dryer box can easily be converted into Little Red Riding Hood's house or a cottage on the lake. Most appliance stores are happy to have you help with their recycling efforts.

Because the construction process is beyond the small-motor skills of most 5-year-olds, a bit of collaboration during the design-build process is required. Of course most houses aren't just a plain old square. Smaller boxes provide the raw material for adding on a bedroom or a porch. The rambling, connected farmhouse, shed, and barn complexes of New England can be your inspiration. Our testers created one from a refrigerator box, a stove box, a pizza box (smaller roof), and a large moving box cut in half (bigger roof) — all inside out. Duct or Gorilla tape can attach box to box, but repairs may require a hot-glue gun. With your child, identify the location of doors and windows and score them with an X-acto knife for easy hinges. Kid testers Mathieu and Stefan loved the multiple entrances, and it didn't take long before they each claimed their own door. Windows with handles (wooden stringing beads strung on rope both inside and out) were used for quick stuffed animal exits or games of peekaboo. And the piece de resistance? The trap door to the attic, of course.

After assembling the basic form, the real fun begins. Ask your child what your structure needs in order to be a real home. Chimneys are a possibility — add some cotton smoke. Flower boxes, dish towel curtains, and rugs add charm. How about a telephone, stuffed animals, or dress-ups? When good weather finally beckons, just fold up your fort and store it until the next rainy day — if the kids can wait that long.

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CeReality: 5 Families, 5 Stories, 1 Critical Meal

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