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the tree fort

2013 June 3
by Rachel Turiel






While Dan, Rose and I planted potatoes in our front yard, Col decided to build a fort in our cottonwood tree. He hauled up some random boards from our wood pile, while Rose fetched a hammer and handed him nails from the ground. Had Dan decided to “help,” he could have fashioned the kids a mini-paradise of a tree fort, every board perfectly level, plumb and stable, with shelving, multiple platforms and other tricked-out accoutrements. But Col made it clear that he would be foreman of the job, and proceeded to nail a piece of plywood, slopingly, to all sorts of random wooden block shims. There is nothing level, plumb or stable about the job, but it’s his.

The next morning, as I was transplanting bok choi into the garden, Col ran crying to me about how he just wanted to be in the tree fort alone and Rosie would not get out. It was his tree fort, and he was not going to add a bedsheet, as Rosie insisted it needed. Rose claimed that as building-assistant she had rights to the fort, too. I listened to them share their grievances, asked for their potential solutions, practiced for the Olympic sighing competition, considered the buzzkill solution of if you can’t work it out, no one can play in there, and when they couldn’t agree on anything, I went back to tucking baby bok choi into compost. “I’m sure you’ll figure something out,” I told them.

Less than ten minutes later they constructed a game where they were siblings who had terribly mean parents (result of reading both Lemony Snicket and Harry Potter currently?), whom they escaped by moving to their tree fort in the countryside.

The game got more elaborate as they decided they lived in “olden times,” and all the cars were carriages, letters back home were written on hollyhock leaves, and they slept on pillows stuffed with straw (filched from potato patch).

Col and Rose have spent almost every free moment in their tree fort. They’ve eaten meals up there. They’ve created rules (only two kids at a time and if neighbor kids want to use it while Col and Rose are away, they have to “not wreck it.”). They’ve constructed a rope pulley system attached to a bucket to haul important things up (like more straw for pillows). When friends and neighborhood kids come over, they join the game.

I thought the kids were constructing a tree fort, but actually they were exploring autonomy, building design, problem-solving, collaboration, historical narration, imagination, and ingenuity. But the best part is that for them, they’ve just been playing.


16 Responses leave one →
  1. June 3, 2013

    LOVE this:)

  2. Melissa permalink
    June 3, 2013

    you mean to tell me that the “it’s my special thing and I don’t want my sib to play with it” doesn’t go away by this age? denial is very powerful (and soothing) sometimes. but i love how you handled it and isn’t so true they usually figure it out on their own? even little avi and lilit this morning, fighting over her new dora book from her birthday, seemed to figure it out better once i took myself away from the negotiation (with a parting suggestion that they help each other out). kids are so amazing!!!

    love col’s treehouse. xo

  3. Susan S permalink
    June 3, 2013

    Reminds me of Scout and Jem in To Kill a Mockingbird.

  4. Andrea permalink
    June 3, 2013

    Awe, homeschool at its finest!

  5. Ellie permalink
    June 3, 2013

    So so awesome…happy summer to you all.

  6. June 3, 2013

    That treehouse ROCKS! I want to play in it!

  7. June 3, 2013

    Love everything about this :)

  8. June 3, 2013

    This just made my day. They are awesome. You are too! xo

  9. June 3, 2013

    Sounds like the perfect “school” project. Love it!

  10. Sharon Ray permalink
    June 3, 2013

    Ahh, Rachel, it is such a comfort to know that such a wonderful mother lives on my planet.

    So good to see the kids and my old abode too <3

    I love you guys ever,


  11. June 4, 2013

    Wonderful! I esp. like the part where you go back to transplanting bok choy. Sometimes, after trying to be so patient and empathizing your butt off, the best thing to do is just ignore and carry on. Great reminder!

  12. Britta permalink
    June 4, 2013


  13. June 4, 2013

    what a wonderful post to read with my morning tea :)

  14. June 5, 2013

    I’m pretty sure I utter those same “I’m sure you’ll figure something out” a zillion times a day. I go to bed hoping this playing together thing gets easier. The term “olden times” made me literally laugh out loud.

  15. June 5, 2013

    LOVE your description of the conflict resolution… I agree that the if you can’t work it out, no one can play in there is so laim and controlling… I love it when kids come up with such amazing and creative solutions!

  16. June 6, 2013

    Perfect. The stuff good childhoods are made from x

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