Saturday, June 12, 2010

Cubbies, forts, shelters and dens at preschool

When the challenge of the climber or the commotion on the swings is too much, where is there to go to be alone or with a trusted friend or fellow temporary outcast?  

Where can I observe my next challenge?  Quiet spaces scaled to child size all provide wayside rests.  

- Jim Greenman

Cubbies, forts, shelters or dens - it doesn't matter what you call them.  It just matters that children have the chance to make their own.

In a preschool where children are free to play outside all day if their hearts so desire, it is important to provide them with child-sized spaces to watch, to wonder and to retreat.

It isn't hard or expensive to meet this need.  Our cubbies aren't what you would call salubrious: sometimes our outdoors can look like a tent city or junk yard to an adult eye!

Here are a few ideas that would suit the preschool playground or the backyard:

1. There is the handy old staple: the big box cubby

2. Sun Shelters give you an easy, instant cubby

I picked this one up at a garage sale for $5:

3. A couple of old sheets or mosquito nets

Peg them up and you are good to go! Mosquito nets give children a sense of seclusion, but they are still in view so we can see what is going on:

Cubby play is different to the play observed in the rest of the large, open active area.  It gives children a sense of belonging, offers emotional security and comfort and promotes child initiated pretend play.

A cubby within a cubby provides a sense of social intimacy and a place to recharge batteries:

4. A neighbourhood of cubbies

5. Cubbies created by the kids

Forts and lean-to's, milk crate walls and cardboard castles.  The outdoors is a place for children to build shelters and barricades.  If we don't have a place for children to call their own chances are they will build one themselves:.

A healthy supply of loose parts that are easily accessible to the children such as planks, sheets, rope, crates and tyres it is possible to encourage construction with or without tools:


Skeletal structures such as platforms, A frames, or this slide (which incidentally is rarely used for actual sliding!) are a base children can add to if other loose parts are available.

6. Natural Cubbies

The challenges involved in building a cubby from found natural materials provide a wealth of learning experiences that can cover all developmental areas:

They also provide a way of connecting young children to the natural environment:

And then there is the lesser-known moving cubby!

If you are not already all cubbied-out, here are some of my other posts about cubby houses:

Or you might like to take a look at Sherry and Donna's irresistible cubby compilation over at Irresistible Ideas for Play Based Learning.


  1. Thanks Jenny! This is a remarkable set of cubbies.

  2. Great photos. One well recognised schema is "enclosure" and the need that children have to experience a variety of small spaces, nooks and crannies.I'm quite inspired. I feel a blog post coming on...!

  3. My girls love cardboard box cubbies too. They turned their latest one into a 'Story Box' and love lying in there together, telling stories and drawing their illustrations all over the box. It's been a great way for them to be together and stretch their imaginations, use language and have fun.

  4. What a great thing to remember.So many awesome ways to integrate cubbies with outside play.Thanks for sharing!

  5. Cathy, I love the idea of the story box.

  6. Not a single adult-made, overpriced cubby house in sight. So many smiles.

  7. We used a tent this week in the classroom. I'm not sure what all went on in there, but they had fun!

  8. Love the 'moving' cubby :)

  9. Well if its about retreating for some quiet time I need to make myself one!

  10. Scott - our kids love indoor cubbies too.
    Gwynneth - I have a cubby to retreat too - its called the study :)

  11. I love this post! Too bad the rainy season has begun in our parts of the world.