Although a blanket and a few cushions aren’t typical materials for messy play, this blanket fort messy play certainly made a lot of disorder at our house.
While doing some vacuuming to clean up one mess, we had to move some of the chairs in the kitchen. I don’t know how that inspired the idea of a blanket fort, but soon the cushions were on the floor, the coffee table moved to a new position, and a few blankets recruited from other rooms. Once the blanket fort had a roof and walls, the kids began rounding up all the things needed for playing in it. This added up to a surprising number of items, but it was all contained in one space.
While messy play often refers to sensory fun, and creative play usually suggests art activities, making a blanket fort was both. The kids were creating their own world. They were also managing it which required a lot of problem-solving and negotiating. Figuring out how the world works and finding our place within it is a huge challenge. This can be overwhelming for young children. With a blanket fort, kids are in control of the world, even if it’s just a small space for a short time. They are controlling the rules and directing the play. This limits the uncertainty for them. On the other hand, play in a blanket fort is unlimited, because the fort can be anything such as a store, space ship, bus, or dragon cave, and kids can choose to be anyone, person, animal, or another creature.
Blanket fort messy play not only engages brains and promotes thinking skills, it also involves emotions and encourages exploring feelings. Kids can pretend they are brave or scared, adults or babies. In a variety of roles, they interact with others, connecting actions and words. This play is purposeful and perhaps that is why it’s so much fun for kids. All in all, isn’t that worth the mess?
In the song Puff the Magic Dragon, Puff slinks into his cave where he feels safe, so for today’s play, how about blanket forts for kids and dragons? Note the box of colored paper is the fire.
Another word for blanket fort is GORF, short for good ol’ reliable fort. Making one isn’t hard, although it can take a long time. That’s a big part of the fun. There are some super easy blanket forts. One of the fastest is to spread a big tablecloth, sheet, or blanket over a table and let the sides hang down to the floor. Four chairs also work. Put 2 chairs in a row and leave some space in between them. Place 2 other chairs back-to-back to the first ones and move them a couple of feet away. Drape a blanket over the backs of the chairs. An ironing board can also be recruited but it doesn’t make a very big one unless it’s used with something else. The infographic below shows how to make one from the cushions on the sofa. Really, kids will use anything, even a big cardboard box.
Once kids have a fort then comes the next stage, that of rounding up stuff from all over the house to put in it. What might a dragon need in a fort? Pillows, more blankets, some stuffies, a stack of books, an assortment of plastic dishes, containers for cooking, and whatever else appeals at the moment. While this can and often does create a mess, it’s limited to one area, so it’s not so bad.
Why blanket forts for kids? Well, like the dragon, a fort or cave is a child’s own space. Kids make up the rules for what happens inside. They control and direct the play. Taking on the world is overwhelming for kids, but a small space within the boundaries of the fort limits uncertainty. At the same time, the space inside the fort is unlimited, in terms of imagination. It can be anywhere at any time. Kids can be anything or anyone they choose. Maybe even a dragon?
This next post in the series of how kids don’t need toys to play, because they play with anything, uncovers play with blankets. No cover up here. (Pun gleefully intended.)
One of the first and most universal ways to play with blankets is the game of peek-a-boo. Babies and older kids love to hide in plain sight. At first, this now-you-see-me, now-you-don’t is a way to discover people and objects don’t disappear just because we can’t see them. Later, the game becomes a way to confirm a connection to others. Kids feel reassured to know we will look for them and will find them.
A favorite way to play with blankets is to build a blanket fort. A really big blanket can be draped over a table for a very quick and easy fort. Kids can make a much more elaborate one using the sofa, several chairs, or a clothesline. Not just inside the house, but outside too, kids may be able to rig up one with blankets, trees, and poles.
A blanket can be an outward expression of caring. Kids wrap up dolls and stuffies with blankets. One young girl followed grandpa’s example of tender loving care for his tractor and so wrapped up her toy one and cradled it in her arms.
The fairy tale of the princess and the pea, who had to prove herself is also a story of how it feels when other people doubt our word. We emerge from the experience covered in emotional bruises like the princess when others can’t see us for who we really are. No matter how high the pile of blankets, there is deep pain. Children with high sensory-needs often like a heavy pile of blankets. The weighted sensation helps them deal with sensory information, either stimulating or calming them. A blanket can also provide a feeling of security. A child’s play with blankets is meeting both physical and emotional needs.
Play with blankets isn’t undercover, even tho kids might be. It’s just so obvious we can’t see it. Do you remember hiding under the blankets with a flashlight so you could read or tell ghost stories? Does your child have a favorite blanket? Do you?
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