As part of our unit “Construction – Houses” we could think of a better activity to provide us with understanding of shelter than to make one ourselves! There are a couple of different options for this activity. One uses trees as the posts to set up your simple tent, while the other uses the side of stairs as a lean-to (pictured). A lean-to is a structure usually with three sides and open at the entrance, and is a simple form of shelter.

Set up Time: 10 minutes


  1. Gather a large blanket, string, and pretend picnic supplies (cups, plates, pots, bowls, books, animals, etc.).
  2. Go with children to determine which will be the best place to build your shelter. For a basic shelter, you need 3 points of contact to hold it up, and even better if you have four. If you only have 2 (like in our lean-to photos above), look for other solid and heavy items that you can use as the third post (flower pot, log, chair). We used a flower pot for our lean-to and for our trees we found three trees that were bunched together. Based on the surface, decide whether it would be best to tie a large knot with the cloth itself, or use strings to secure it.
  3. Invite children to play in their new shelter! Gather “food” with natural loose parts, read a story, or make up a story together.


  • Sheet
  • Pretend picnic supplies (cups, plates, pots, bowls, etc)
  • String (if necessary)

Learning Through Play

Cognitive: Problem Solving – Give children the opportunity to join millennia of humans that have sought to create shelter in all sorts of environments. If the shelter falls down, demonstrate patience and healthy approaches to problem solving as you look for solutions together to make a sturdier structure. If the children decide to play with your shelter in a different way than you anticipate, that’s okay!

Social-Emotional: Independence – While most yards are designed to be open, grassy, and clear, the truth is that children love secret little enclaves, caves, and hiding spots. They might see an eco-system under a patch of bushes, or a perfect little cave where plants form an arch. Let’s indulge their desire to create imaginary worlds and secret places that are their own. This type of activity is an example of how guided play can turn into independent play. Caregivers can start the children off by building this simple structure together and talking through the ways to build it, and then give children space to play and imagine on their own with peers. They may forage for “food” and supplies, make up stories, or bring preferred toys into their little space.

School Readiness: Love of Books – Reading books together is always special, but reading books in a special outdoor shelter is always an adventure! Invite children to fill a bag or backpack with favorite books and turn this into a special reading adventure as well.

See this activity in the Rayz Kidz app along with the other fun pretend play activities. Rayz Kidz is your trusted source for play-based activities featuring over 100 themes and 500+ hands-on activities and clear descriptions of the beautiful learning that is happening through play.