Friday, May 3, 2013

Simple Play Space Transformations: #2 Shelters

We can create engaging play spaces for young children using easily sourced and low cost (often free!) materials.  It's easier than you think!  Over the next few weeks I'll show you how, using examples from early childhood settings around the globe.  

Today let's take a look at how creating a simple shelter can transform a play space, either at home or in an early childhood centre. 

Create a Shelter

Shelters, dens, cubbies, forts or teepees - it doesn't matter what you call them, it only matters that you add them to your play space!

Children need child-sized spaces to make their own.  Places where they can feel hidden away from prying adult eyes, places to retreat to and places to share with a special friend.  

Shelters are inviting spaces, with a wealth of possibilities for a young child - and they are so very simple to create.

Here are some suggestions:

A pop up sun shelter from Cathy's Child Minding:

Pop up shelters work just as well indoors.  They are easy to move around, and to put away at the end of the day.  You can often find sun shelters cheaply at garage sales.  I found the one below at an Op Shop for $5.

Shelters can be cobbled together from natural materials such as branches and stumps and lengths of fabric, from Elder Street Early Childhood Centre.  Apparently this one is a tiger's cage: 

Shelters can be a more permanent option, like this one from Gunnedah Family Day Care, created from wire mesh and bark:

Living shelters, like this teepee from Blue House International School create natural child sized play spaces that are instantly appealing to young children.

Train vast growing vines or climbing plants such as nasturtiums or beans over a simple frame of bamboo poles or trellis to create a wonderful natural hiding hole, or grow sunflowers to create a sunflower house like this one from Mother's Bible


Shelters can nestle nicely into small spaces of the outdoor area, like this one from Puzzles Family Day Care:

Or into the corner of a nursery, again from Puzzles Family Day Care:

Sheer fabric hung from branches creates an inviting space beneath the trees, at Garden Gate Development Centre:

Throw a sheet over a frame of big sticks, like this one from Immanuel Lutheran Preschool:

Or over an old A-frame, like this one from Irresistible Ideas for Play Based Learning:

Make a shelter from palm fronds, from Irresistible Ideas for Play Based Learning:

Hang mosquito netting to define a play area:

Or an old sheet from the side of a cubby house or fence:

Think about the bushes and trees that you have in your outdoor space, and how the children could use them to create secret hidey holes:

We all remember creating forts using sheets, blankets and pillows from our own childhood.  The best shelters are those the children have made themselves.  Stock up on lengths of fabric, old curtains, table clothes and sheets and leave them out for the children to discover and to weave their own magic on the play environment:


And of course, one can never underestimate the potential of a cardboard box to become a house, a fort, a cage - or anything really!  This one is from The Big Play Box:

For more on simple ways to transform a play space:

or browse through:

Cubby Fun @ Irresistible Ideas for Play Space Learning

Over to you.  Do you have any ideas for creating shelters for young children that you would like to share?


  1. This site is awesome.I had like all the shelters you used in this post.These are really so beautiful and elegant.

  2. I remember my childhood times whenever I see this picture of kids that are playing house that looks like real and assuming that we are whole family. ha ha its definitely one of the best memories of my childhood times. kids birthday parties nyc