School in the Back Yard-treehouses, forts and very deep holes

Kids don’t get to build treehouses and forts much any more around here. You can get a fine treehouse at Costco and an adult can put it up for you in a day. These kinds of treehouses come pre cut and finished and all you have to do is pick a spot and follow the directions in the box. You can also get forts at Toy r Us..big plastic ones that are supposed to look like logs but they actually look like plastic. They are tidy.

One of the reasons my classroom will always have dirt and sand and mud and water and gardens that are home to bugs and birds is because…..I feel it is a gift to kids… from me…because….

I remember the smell of the fort that kids in my neighborhood worked on for weeks….it smelled like dirt, wood and wet newspaper.


What they did was get shovels and dig the deepest hole in America right next to a big old scrub oak in someone’s yard. The hole was incredibly deep and wide….and there were steps carved out of the soil that you used to get down inside. Then they put together scraps of wood they had found at some construction sites common to the suburbs of Long Island at that time. They figured out how to build a sort of raft looking roof that they attached somehow to the tree and if you wanted to get inside you had to say the password and one of the guys stationed in the tree…he would pull the sort of  hinged roof up with a rope, and then lower it again once you were in. The fort was lit by flashlights because someone’s dad said candles were not safe and wouldn’t allow them..but he supplied some flashlights.

There were comic books stored in a special box. There were Mars bars and Devil Dogs too. The adults of the house would send out pitchers of cold sweet tea. Four people could fit inside  at one time. All were welcome to take turns. There was a list. The oldest kids assisted us in all manner of things…using the tools especially. We were all pretty sad the day it rained hard and turned the fort into a mudhole…but then it became a digging place where we started building all sorts of boats that we could sink or float depending on what we were thinking about. The hose was available to keep the hole full…and we started making river systems that would flow into the huge ocean. Oh oh..then mud cuisine began to happen…it was seemingly endless.

We had to be hosed off before we were allowed into the neighbors pool.

A whole summer was spent in that yard until school started up again. Then we went back to our age segregated classrooms and sat as dutifully in our assigned seats as we could. We hardly saw one another until the next vacation from school.

Things we learned in the summer were names of tools, the difference between screws and nails and that there were all kinds of nails for all kinds of purposes. Some of us learned how to read a bit because of the comic books. We learned the terms..excess dirt…buoyant….16 leagues under the sea…quicksand…an on and on. We also learned how to solve problems together. Grownups would check on us, but stayed back and let us figure things out for the most part.

Children need dirt and rocks and sticks and leaves and bugs. They need time to figure things out together. I think about that fort and am so grateful to the grownups who allowed us to transform their yard into such an unforgettable place.

My memory of that particular time and place was jogged after I read the article linked below. …”Kids learn from building their own forts and treehouses if adults let them”

It’s really true. Sometimes school is in someone’s back yard just waiting to be discovered..or in a small patch of woods…or on a vacant lot….


About cthebean

Educator, musician, social justice activist...and now a blogger. Children deserve unflinching support from adults.....they deserve nothing less. All kids . Everybody's kids. Everywhere.
Aside | This entry was posted in thoughts and radical reflections and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to School in the Back Yard-treehouses, forts and very deep holes

  1. cthebean says:

    Reblogged this on and commented:

    thinking about school in summer… camp or the backyard?


  2. cthebean says:

    Thanks for the kind words


  3. Carol Hand says:

    Such a lovely story that conveys important truths! Thank you for sharing this, cthebean.


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