Playing at the Forts

Our daughter has come home from school for the past few weeks with some interesting stories from recess. At her school, which edges a small woods, the teachers lead occasional outings into the trees to find fallen branches. The 1st through 3rd graders use these branches and their own creativity to build forts on the edge of the playground.  When I first heard about these forts, I simply thought this was a fun option to playing on the swings or on the monkey bars, but hearing her stories have increased my interest in “fort play”.

In our daughter’s mind, these forts are a serious job. Students are assigned roles, expected to carry their weight and can lose their job if they don’t do their part. They are part of a team, a member of one specific fort. Competition results between forts on who has the best construction, who has the best supplies made from rocks, sticks and clay. We’ll be honest, the competition has gotten a little intense at times and students have been warned they will lose fort play if they can’t play nicely with each other.

As parents, we are always looking for opportunities to help our children grow and develop into responsible individuals that can work together.  While I adore watching my children play on swings or simply run around and enjoy fresh air, I’m intrigued by this “job-focused game” the kids have created.

Recently, a first-grader wanted to join my daughter’s fort. Their head fort-builder was a little harsh in his criticism that she wouldn’t be able to keep up with the big second-graders. Another second-grader stood up for her and said if they didn’t accept the first-grader, she was going to leave the fort. The situation was soon resolved and the first-grader stayed. Without any adult’s interceding, these children raised a question, saw a conflict, offered a solution and came to an agreement.

With little ones, we are always focused on developmental milestones and goals. We are very interested in when they should start walking, talking, self-feeding etc. There are games that we can play and activities that we sign up for to help them work on developmental areas such as fine motor, gross motor, communication etc.

As our children grow, it’s still important to provide opportunities and watch for different types of milestones, but it’s not as black and white as when they were little.  Are we giving them opportunities to practice independence in appropriate areas in their life? Are we modeling positive interactions between other adults, even when in a state of conflict? Are we challenging them to try new things and deal with the results of being more or less skilled than others in the new activities?

Life is definitely bigger than a small fort on the edge of a playground. However, I’m excited that simple little fort is already giving my child opportunities to work, play, see and resolve conflict and learn how to work as a team.

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