Sunday, May 31, 2015

My Boys as 'Survivors'

My boys have spent the weekend in their backyard fort.  It's a simple fort that I designed and my dad built years ago, and I've long awaited the day when the upper part of the fort would be used for sleeping - I had planned the upper part to sleep two people.  This weekend the fort has been home for my boys.

It's amazing to me how much true emergent play comes from allowing children to be be bored!  Friday afternoon, both boys expressed boredom so severe that they feared death would soon follow; I empathized with them, suggested a few things they could do, and otherwise left them to their own devices - knowing from long experience that these are the moments when their creativity usually comes most to the forefront.

Sure enough...

Matthew had the idea first that they should work on the fort to make it suitable for sleeping; Seth joined in quickly.

Since then, Matthew and Seth have been bettering the fort for their uses.  They put an old moving blanket down on the upper floor of the fort, covered it with sleeping bags, dragged a 4'x8' sheet of plywood up there (using some kind of pulley system that they created) to make a roof, rigged up a dining/night table to eat at and store their stuff on, created a pulley system for hanging their clothes on using the side of the fort and the beam overtop the swings, put in hooks to hang their bathrobes on, hung a garbage pail out the side of the fort, draped plastic over one of the openings to prevent wind from creeping in, and then lugged out stuffies, pillows, clocks, an ipod (for listening to audio books late at night), and whatever else they thought would be helpful.  They use their makeshift roof as an upper-upper floor, and put chairs up there for their living and visiting areas and carefully lined up a small floor mat on which to store their shoes (to keep the sleeping area free of dirt!).  The entrance and exit to their fort is the yellow slide.

It's awesome!

The boys were determined to sleep outside that evening.  I checked the weather forecast for them because Friday was a dull and dreary and drizzly kind of day around here.  It was to be -2C overnight. Shiivvver.  I was tempted to discourage them, knowing it was going to be very cold, but I held my tongue and just told them what the temperature was going to be; which in turn gave Matthew the chance to teach Seth about what that temperature meant (another great learning for my younger boy, because he learned it faster from his brother than during my attempts to teach it!).  That night, despite my inner misgivings and my deep assurances that they would be back inside before midnight (whether from cold or from fear I didn't know), they dressed in several layers of clothing and climbed into their makeshift beds.

We talked, off and on, with our walkie talkies, over the next hour, and by the time Geoff checked on them before bed, at around 11pm, they were out.  Sleeping.  In the cold.

And they lasted until 5:45am, when the walkie talkie beside my head went off like a shotgun in my ear and announced that they'd made it!!

Well, the joy that this brought was something to behold.  They were totally proud of themselves, and spent most of the day creating new ways of making their fort even better (for example, attaching a thermal water jug to a pulley so that they could pull up the water for a drink when they needed one).  They ate their lunch out there yesterday (I happened to have some wieners and beans in the house) and they would have eaten dinner out there, too, had we not been invited to a birthday party for the evening.  And then they slept out there last night, too, though thankfully through much warmer temperatures.

Last night, for their second night, I provided them each with a container of 'emergency rations' - muffins, dried mango, bits of chocolate, and popcorn twists.  They totally loved that and apparently nibbled on bits of it while listening to their audio book (sharing headphones so that they could do it together); then they saved the rest of it for this morning and had breakfast with the birds while sitting and visiting on the roof of their fort.

A little later, when I was up, I brewed some coffee for them, and found two leftover-from-Christmas-stockings boxes of junkie cereal that I cut open and added milk to, and so I took more breakfast out to them.  They clapped their hands in glee.

When they finally came inside, the boys announced that they were planning to make a toilet for themselves out there, and told us their plan...but there I put up my hand and said no (you can guess who'd end up cleaning that mess up!) and said that the bathroom was just inside and they were welcome to avail themselves of the facilities inside the house.  They were disappointed, as they felt confident that real 'survivalists' would make their own toilets, but I assured them that at least they had come up with a plan for a toilet that would come in handy in case of an emergency.

I have no idea if that fort will be used again this summer or not, but I can say with great certainty that that Friday afternoon hour of boredom had an amazing result:  Totally creative and emergent play; brother bonding; and an adventure that they will remember for a long time to come.  Completely worth it!


  1. I LOVE this story! How cool all the innovation and creativity they put into it, and the safety/reassurance of walkie talkies--their invisible link to you! Way to go Matthew and Seth!!

    1. Thanks Joanne...I love it too! And yes, the walkie talkies were very helpful...and a comfort thing for both them and for me.


      Ruth xx