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Build a Fort

Updated: Sep 28, 2021

Design, engineering and outdoor fun!!

Grade Level:



Engineering Design

  • Defining Engineering Problems

  • Developing Possible Solutions

  • Optimizing Design Solution

Tools & Materials

  • Will vary depending on style & type of fort. See “What’s Going On” section for description of various styles of forts and possible materials.

To Do & Notice

1. Guiding Question: Can you build a fort? What design and engineering features will make it sturdy enough to provide shelter?

2. Make a Claim: What materials will be needed to build your fort? What types of design elements would you like to include? What engineering principles will ensure your fort will remain standing?

3. Exploration: Get inspired! Watch this video reading of Andrew Henry’s Meadow by Doris Burn read by Ashley Phillips, SWEP Project Director. Andrew Henry is a boy who builds a meadow full of forts customized for each of his friends’ interests. The forts are amazing and will definitely inspire you!

  • Decide on a style of fort. We encourage outdoor forts & fairy houses, but indoor forts are fun too! See the “What's Going On” section below for fort ideas.

  • Create a design. Sketch your design idea in your science notebook, journal or piece of paper. Consider materials and create a list of supplies needed for your fort. Challenge yourself to only use reusable items from nature (or repurpose items from your home).

  • Gather materials and build your design.

  • Redesign and build as needed. As you build you will likely run into obstacles and challenges. This is an important part of the process!! Consider your first attempt as a prototype that you learn from. Don’t be afraid to redesign and rebuild.

4. Analyze: What worked well and what challenges did you run into? How can you improve on your design? What additional features are you considering?

5. Communicate your findings:

  • Take a picture or video of your fort and share it on social media and tag us @sweptahoe on Instagram and/or to @swep4 on Facebook. Be sure to hashtag and follow #SWEPsnippets. If you cannot post directly yourself, send SWEP your photos (

What’s Going On

Styles of Forts:

  • Tree Forts & Houses: An above ground structure built around, next to or amongst the trunk and branches of trees.

  • Stick Forts: Structures built of sticks at ground level. Typically started by leaning sticks against a larger log or against a tree.

  • Stone Forts: Structure built by piling stones or rocks in walls at ground level. Often stone forts are built against a larger rock for supporting structure.

  • Fairy Houses: A mini-fort designed for a small fairy (or other tiny being) made entirely from objects found in nature. See “Resources” for some ideas and instructions for Fairy House building.

  • Blanket & Pillow Forts: Classic fort typically built indoors using blankets, pillows. Often blankets can be tucked into window frames, door jams, bed frames or couch to help create structure.

  • Snow Forts: A structure made of snow, built at ground level. Can be as simple as a mound of snow with a tunnel dug through or as elaborate as an igloo. See “Resources” for some ideas and instructions for Igloo building.


Going Further

  • Take your fort building to the next level by learning how to build survival shelters. Check out this article with 15 of the best designs for survival shelters and instructions on how to build them:

Thank you to our many partners for supporting student's science, sustainability and outdoor learning experiences.

Please review SWEP's Terms of Use prior to using this resource.


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Sep 27, 2021

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