Fortlandia: The Kingdom of Learning

It is no surprise that children love forts. Chances are high that everyone reading this can recall a childhood memory of building a fort. And with good reason – forts offer humans (especially small humans) a plethora of sensorial and imaginative splendor. They are special places where learning occurs on an intimate level that is often overlooked by school systems.

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At the Waldorf School of Baltimore we encourage our students to build forts in the schoolyard. We did this by offering them elemental loose parts – sticks, stones, string, leaves, and straw – and the modest invitation to “build something.” From those humble parts and simple words a magnificent kingdom was born. This kingdom isn’t some childhood paradise – it is as complex as our adult world (if not more so). Dragons, Spies, and Knights are everywhere – and, yes, dubious Bankers exist too. Life in the kingdom gets confusing. At recess, a teacher’s primary role is to ensure the physical and emotional safety of the students; the secondary role is help them develop the mental tools needed to navigate the rich experiences they are crafting. Teachers are not there to solve their problems, they are there to help them learn how to solve their own problems.


At the Waldorf School of Baltimore we understand that learning does not only occur in the classroom, and recess is not simply “taking a break.”  Recess is academic in its own right – it is a time of synthesis. Students are not only constructing forts; they are developing their social awareness and learning to manage the complexity of the world.

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The special places impulse in a school setting invites children to relive the history of the species. They create primitive shelters, form tribes, battle over resources, learn to barter, create legal systems, invent currency, learn to monitor the own behavior, recognize the impact of the built environment on ecosystems.  — Excerpt from the book Childhood and Nature: Design Principles for Educators by David Sobel (Stenhouse Publishers 2008)

If you’re hungry to understand more about the academics behind the fort building impulse, Meet the World’s Leading Expert on Why Kids Build Forts, David Sobel (who also happens to be my graduate advisor at Antioch University New England).