Make a Fort: 7 Fort Ideas for Hours of Backyard Fun
Kids love forts. They love constructing them, and they love holing up in them with a mess of snacks and all the flotsam and jetsam they inevitably drag out of the house and squirrel away in them. If you’re looking for summer activities for kids that’ll keep ‘em busy for eons in the great outdoors, send them outside to make a fort.
How to Make a Fort: The Basics
Unless you’re making a cardboard box fort, building a fort is all about the Four F’s: Frame, fabric, fasteners, and floor.
The Fort Frame
The frame of the fort is what the fabric will be draped over or attached to with the fasteners. The sky’s the limit here:
- A rope tied between two or more trees or chairs.
- Bamboo poles leaned against the fence or house.
- Bamboo poles tied into a teepee frame.
Backyard Fort Fabric Choices
If you’d rather not have your linen closet raided, head to the thrift store, where you can buy a pile of sheets, curtains, and other large pieces of fabric for a song. You can also make a fort with large canvas drop cloths, such as this 9’ x 12’ job, which you can get on Amazon. For a waterproof fort that can keep your kids outside playing Survivorman when it’s raining, try some tarps or plastic drop cloths or table cloths.
Fasteners for a Custom Fort
To make a fort, you need to be able to fasten the fabric to the frame. A combination of fasteners will probably be needed, depending on what kind of fort your kids are making. Excellent fasteners include:
- Binder clips.
- Rubber bands.
- Safety pins.
- Duct tape.
- Rope, twine, or string.
Depending on the fort, the kids may need to stake down the fabric. In that case, you can buy those U-shaped weed fabric stakes at your local hardware store, or you can make your own out of sturdy wire.
The Fort Floor
To make a fort comfy and cozy, give the kids your old rugs or moving blankets, or keep an eye out for these at the thrift store. Lay them on the ground for a soft, comfy floor. Look for big floor cushions or beanbags to populate the fort, too.
DIY Backyard Forts
There are endless options for building a backyard fort. Here are four of them.
Simple Tent Fort
All you need for a simple tent fort is a rope strung between two structures. Drape a large piece of fabric over the rope, or fasten two pieces of fabric to it with clothespins or clips. Stake down the ends, and voila! Fort!
If you have a patio table, your kids can make a fort by draping fabric over it and giving it a nice, soft floor with blankets or rugs. You can also use a folding table.
If the table is very sturdy, you can lash bamboo poles to the legs so that they extend a few feet above the table top. Tie a long piece of rope, twine, or string around the perimeter at the top of the poles, fasten fabric to it or drape it over the top, and hello! A two-story fort!
Cardboard Box Fort
A cardboard box fort can be as simple as tossing a single refrigerator box out back, or it can be as elaborate as connecting boxes and boxes and more boxes together to make a maze of rooms and tunnels. If you don’t have a big stack of boxes in the basement, you can often find them for free on Craigslist, Freecycle, your local grocery store, or through U-Haul Customer Connect. Or you can put the call out on social media and collect some decent big boxes that way. Maybe you’ll get lucky, and someone will have just bought a new fridge or washer and dryer.
All the kids need to make a fort out of boxes are some binder clips or duct tape to fasten the boxes together and some scissors to cut out doors and windows (or a marker to draw the doors and windows so you can cut them out with box cutters.) And there you go: Box Fort!
Check out this epic cardboard box fort:
This is more like a cardboard box mansion. Building this baby could feasibly keep your kids busy all summer. Not sure what you’d do when it rains, though. Cover it with a tarp?
Bamboo Pole Fort
Bamboo poles are strong and sturdy, and they make great frames for forts. Thin poles—think garden stakes—are just the right size for clothespins, making attaching the fabric to the bamboo pole frame a piece of cake. You can lean the poles against the fence or house, or you can configure them into a teepee for your fort.
To make a teepee fort, hold six bamboo poles together. Wrap three or four large, thick rubber bands around them about four inches from one end. Stand ‘em up and spread out the legs until they’re just right, and attach the fabric.
Here’s a 25-pack of six-foot bamboo poles on Amazon. They have excellent reviews for strength and durability. If you don’t think you need 25 (but think of all the stuff your kids can do with them!), here’s a six-pack of six-foot bamboo poles.
DIY Fort Kits
While it’s fun to cobble together your own fort, DIY fort kits can make building a fort easier and faster. Here are three quality fort-building kits you can buy on Amazon.
Fort Magic Fort Building & Construction Kit
This Fort Magic Fort Building & Construction Kit is a high quality kit that can be wrangled into endless configurations for clever, imaginative fort building. It comes with 354 pieces, which include lightweight rods and connectors and an idea booklet. It doesn’t come with the fabric that you clip to the frame, but you can use thrift store sheets or inexpensive plastic tablecloths to cover the framework.
Many of the rod-connector kits I looked at had poor or mediocre reviews because the framework would bend or break under the weight of the fabric. Not this one. As long as you use lightweight fabric—i.e., not heavy blankets or quilts—this fort kit’s framework will support it. Eighty-two percent of the 336 reviewers on Amazon give this kit a five-star review, and just seven percent gave it a one-star review. The five-star reviewers like its impressive size, the creative possibilities, its sturdiness, and how much their kids love playing with it.
The negative reviewers report that the rods sometimes pop out of the connectors, that there’s no bag to store the parts (some suggest getting a big plastic tub to store them), and that they could make this themselves with $50 worth of PVC pipes and pex fittings from Home Depot (go for it!). One hilarious one-star reviewer says, “It takes imagination. Who has that these days? It makes children do math. Who wants to force our kids to count and sort without a computer? It makes children analyze how structures are built…” and so on, ending with, “Worth every penny, because it is quality, and my kids love it. All in all, an amazing toy.”
HearthSong Fantasy Fort Kit
The HearthSong Fantasy Fort Kit comes with 16 heavy-duty, 22- x 22-inch square cardboard panels with velcro connectors and clips. All six reviewers give this fort building kit five stars. They like the high quality materials, the versatility, and how much their kids like it. You don’t need fabric for this kit, but it might be a little limiting if older kids want to make a fort that’s big enough for more than one person.
Everest Toys Crazy Forts
This glow-in-the-dark fort building kit comes with 69 pieces, including rods and glow-in-the-dark connecting balls that “glow for hours.” Like the first kit, it doesn’t come with fabric, so you’ll need to use your own.
Sixty-one percent of the 231 reviewers on Amazon give this fort building kit five stars, and four percent give it one star. The five-star reviewers like how sturdy it is, how easy it is to construct, and how much their kids enjoy making forts with it. Many of the five-star reviewers bought two kits so that their kids can make a fort that’s bigger and more complex.
The one- and two-star reviewers say that they wish there were more ball connectors, that the ball connectors smell like vinegar (?!), that the balls didn’t glow, and that you need two sets to make big structures. They complain that the markings on the balls that guide assembly are too hard to see, that it was hard for their kids to build with it, and that some of the rods were missing.
Happy Fort Building!
Whether you decide to DIY or buy a fort-building kit, sending your kids outside to make a fort is a time-honored tradition, and it can keep the kids busy and engaged in creative play for hours. What’s not to love about building a fort? If you have your own ideas to add, please feel free to comment!