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Your kid needs a tree house (and you do too)

Tree houses have always been associated with kids escaping to their own space, one that’s private and of their making, a kingdom removed from the all too tedious world of adults. 

In 1972, Italo Calvino wrote The Baron in the Trees, a book about a boy named Cosimo who grows so bored of his family that he climbs a tree and never comes down.

It’s not the type you book you see on most “must read” lists, but it’s always been one of my favorites. I like the way it captures the wonder of childhood—that feeling of possibility and adventure that arises when a kid climbs a tree and imagines his own kingdom.

Boy climbing rope swing

Tree houses have always been associated with kids escaping to their own space, one that’s private and of their making, a kingdom removed from the all too tedious world of adults.

For many years, my boys played in a tree house on a vacant lot near our house. It was a neighborhood tree house built up over the years by countless kids. This one had all the qualities I love: Names and warnings carved into old boards, hand made ladders, and plenty of precarious construction.

It was popular spot in our neighborhood—the home base for a game the kids called “eagle eye.” But this summer, the tractors arrived and unceremoniously tore it down. There’s a grey Calfornia bungalow near the spot where it once stood.

Now we’re building a new tree house. This one is on our property. Grandpa’s helping. I know it won't be the same, but I hope that it will have some of the magic of the old one.

 

TREE HOUSES TEACH KIDS HOW TO TAKE RISKS

The ladders, ropes, and elevation of a typical tree house can seem a little treacherous to some parents. Parents, though, need to remind themselves that learning to take risks is a crucial component in adolescent development.

Guided and reasonable risk taking helps kids grow up self-reliant and capable.  All told, allowing kids to spend eight hours a day in front of a glowing screen is far more dangerous, in the long run, than letting them scramble up some trees.

 

TREE HOUSES GET KIDS OUTSIDE

Many things today are better now than they were when I was a kid, but one thing isn’t: Childhood has moved indoors.

Why make up your own world when there are a million ready-made worlds on Netflix and PlayStation? If a kid falls into this type of lifestyle, the results can be devastating.

We need to remind ourselves that being outside is good for us. Science has proven that it’s beneficial for our immune systems, our mental health, and our fitness, but common sense—I contend—tells us the same things and the evidence is far more interesting.

Ask any hunter, skier, or backpacker how he or she feels about time spent outside. The answer will always be the same—it’s damn good. That’s proof enough for me.

steps going up the tree

 

TREE HOUSES ARE GOOD FOR THE BRAIN

Tree house building is a sneaky way to make math, physics, team work, and science enjoyable activities. It’s like slipping a little spinach into a strawberry smoothie.

The same thing goes for fort building, cairn stacking, rock skipping (and plenty of other experiences that you won’t benefit from when your butt is glued to a couch).

The key with tree houses, though, is to let the kids use the hammer and the saw. They need to help plan and build the tree house. They need to have some skin in the game. Teach kids how to use a tool, give them a stack of boards and a bucket of nails, and you’ll be amazed by the creations they come up with. No, their engineering doesn’t always complement tidy shrubs and meticulously mowed lawns, but parenting is a game of give and take. Sometimes you have to choose your poison.

Tree house building is a sneaky way to make math, physics, team work, and science enjoyable activities

THE TAKEAWAY

Tree houses, to me, represent more than my own nostalgic memories of childhood forts. They are the perfect counterbalance for a modern world that seems bent on hyper-controlling how, when, and where kids play. I say we need more tree houses, more rope swings, more badly hammered nails, and more barons in our trees.

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