Tree Houses Tree Houses

Summertime, and the living is easy. There's no snow to shovel, no pile of winter jackets crowding the front hall, no worry about slipping on the ice or suffering with a winter cold.

And, the kids are home all day!

If you're finding that every time you think about lying back in the hammock with a good novel there's a stampede of children demanding ice cream, lemonade, or something to do, why not set them up with a project that will not only keep them busy for awhile, but will also give them a room of their own for the remainder of the summer?

This might be the perfect summer for your kids to take part in the venerable American tradition of building treehouses. The early settlers had to construct their own homes from whatever materials were handy, whether it was wood in the forested Northeast or mud on the riverbanks of Missouri. Back then, kids didn't have the luxury of complaining of nothing to do, because they were busy helping to herd the cattle or plant the crops or churn the butter, and they probably would have been happy to have nothing to do.

Don't try telling that to your kids, though. Instead, encourage them to build a tree house or other kind of outdoor fort. All they need are some wooden boards, a few two by fours, some nails and a couple of hammers. Of course, you have to use your good judgment about how much of the job they can handle on their own and how much adult supervision you need to provide for the project.

Remember that you don't want them to rush through this. The whole point is to keep them busy so you can catch up on your Remembrance of Things Past in that hammock. Have them start with drawing a plan and sketching out exactly how they'll build the tree house. Then, have them make a list of supplies they need, and give them an air-conditioned lift to the hardware store.

While we all have an idyllic idea of joyous, capable children frolicking in the yard to build their own tree house, most likely they'll need some help from grown up quarters. You need to help them figure out what kinds of materials they need, what they can do about protecting the fort from the weather, and how to prevent damage to the trees.

Much of this help can be found by looking through some reference materials. There are several good books on the shelves this summer about building tree houses, including Treehouses You can Actually Build and Treehouses, Huts and Forts by David and Jeanie Stiles, and Home Tree Home: Principles of Treehouse Construction and Other Tall Tales by Peter Nelson and Gerry Hadden.

  • Tip: Even if there aren't a lot of trees around your property, the kids can still construct a fort of some kind, using the side of a big rock outcropping for one wall, or fashioning a small hut in the yard. Looking through a few books on the subject will help you and the kids come up with creative ideas of how you can work with what you have.

Make sure that once the place is built, you stay out. Let the kids decorate it as they see fit; the more control they have over it, the more they'll feel it is their own special place, and the more peace and quiet you'll have in that hammock. And then, when you can't stand it anymore, you can always lure them back with the promise of lemonade and ice cream.

Reprinted with permission from the Sheffield School of Design

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