5 Developmental Reasons to Build Blanket Forts with Your Charges (And a Handy-Dandy How-To Guide)

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When thinking up activities to do with my charges, I often think back to the simple things that brought me joy as a child. I don’t know about you, but as a kid, building blanket forts was hands down one of my all-time favorite pastimes. I recall carefully draping blankets and arranging chairs until they were just so, creating a perfect little oasis that was all my own. As an adult and a professional nanny, I’m still quite enthusiastic about my fort-building. With the rainy spring season coming up, you may be stuck indoors for a little while (unless you’re jumping in puddles, which we whole-heartedly encourage). If you’re looking for ways to beat the rainy day blues, let me encourage you to adopt fort-building as a regular rainy day activity. As I’ll explain below, building forts offers your charges so much more than just a few hours of fun. Keep reading to hear why it’s so beneficial developmentally, and see our 5-step guide to help your charges take their fort to the next level.

fortbuilding5

5 Reasons Forts Rocks (From a Developmental Standpoint)

  1. It supports development across several domains. It’s a classic engineering and STEM activity. It requires children to think critically, create and execute a plan,  practice spatial reasoning, innovate, solve problems, learn through trial and error, and exercise their gross motor skills.
  2. It encourages collaboration. Be it siblings, cousins, or neighborhood playmates, fort-building forces children to work together to get the job done. Teamwork makes the dream work, folks.
  3. It fosters a sense of accomplishment. They’ve constructed something with their own two hands, and been the engineer and architect of their very own building project.
  4. It’s a safe place to retreat and recharge. Education writer David Sobel, M.Ed., suggests children benefit from having a hideaway – a cozy, private space all their own to hunker down and forget the cares of the outside world1. A blanket fort is a perfect opportunity for just that.
  5. It fosters imaginative play. A blanket fort can easily become whatever a child’s imagination can dream up. It might be a princess’s palace, the battle fortress of brave knights fighting dragons, or a tent for explorers of the untamed wilderness (watch out for bears!). The possibilities are truly endless.
    dragon-prince
    He requires a fortress.

How to Help Your Charges Build an Awesome One (In 5 Easy Steps)

Step 1: Gather Materials

  • Pull out old sheets and blankets for the walls of your little ones’ fort. In my experience, lightweight materials like cotton and muslin are your best bet – they won’t weigh things down too much and are breathable, so it won’t get too stuffy inside. Ask your nanny family where they keep the old stuff. You don’t want to be using their 900 thread count Egyptian cotton bed sheets here.
  • Keeping a blanket fort from collapsing is tricky business. Your charges will need fasteners to anchor those blankets down. Clothes pins, binder clips, and chip bag clips will all get the job done and can be found in most homes. I prefer clothes pins as they don’t seem to pinch little fingers quite as often, but if you’re working on the fly, use what you’ve got.
  • Couch cushions are great for flooring, along with quilts, thick blankets, pillows, and sleeping bags. Aim for softness and lots of padding!
  • Add a cardboard box to that materials pile while you’re at it! They’re multifunctional. The kids might need one for a super cool tunnel entryway. You never know.

Step 2: Pick a Base Structure

  • This is what your charges will drape their sheets and blankets over. Tables, beds, sofas, and a collection of chairs are obvious options, but your nanny kids may have an ingenious idea for rigging their fort that you would have never thought of. Give them room to innovate, within reason (the Steinway grand piano in the foyer might not be the best option). Remember, your charges are the architects here, let them choose the structure. You’re just there to tell them what’s off-limits.

Step 3: Assembly

  • Let the building begin! Your only job now is to watch out for safety hazards and make sure everyone is happy with the finished product. If you’re nannying toddlers, this may take several hours. Godspeed.

Step 4: Establish Fort Rules

  • You may want to ask your charges a few questions to get them started. Is there a password? Who’s allowed in? How many toots before someone gets the boot? This is great practice in brainstorming, autonomy, and handwriting if they’re at the right age. Once they get the ball rolling, sit back and thank the nanny gods (goddesses?) you don’t have to make the rules for once. And of course, make sure the rules are hand written and posted on the fort. Intruders need to be made aware!

Step 5: Lighting 

  • Layers of blankets will block a lot of light, so your kiddos will need something to illuminate the place. String lights, flashlights, outdoor lanterns, flameless candles, glow sticks, glow in the dark stars, disco balls. Drag out whatever you can find and let them go wild.

And voila! We have a fort, people. Now crawl in there with your charges and watch the magic happen. And remember that not many people can list hanging out in a blanket fort as one of their job perks, so for heaven’s sake, enjoy every last minute of it. IF you’re allowed in, that is. Refer to fort rules on that one.

Happy Building!

Kathryn

PS – See here and here for cute children’s books on the subject.

PSS – Go here to see our pinterest board for inspiration.


1)Sobel, David. Children’s Special Places: Exploring the Role of Forts, Dens, and Bush Houses in Middle Childhood. Zephyr Press, 1993.

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