As a kid, Nancy Thomas used to make blanket forts over lawn chairs: “I’d have a camp light and stay in there and tell ghost stories.” Today, she builds them with her nieces and nephews. There’s something magical to building something and being a part of it, she said.

Children love to hide and feel snuggled into their own creative space, said the mother of two and director at Happy Time Day Care Center in Duluth.

Her children used to build forts in the woods and basement. They'd spend hours creating scenarios in their secret space. “It’s something kids need,” she said.

Thomas has seen kids as young as 12-24 months find a place to hide away when they’re happy, sad or upset, or just to have privacy and garner independence.

Adults create space in their homes for the same purposes, she said.

Melissa Reisdorf’s three kids recently made a blanket fort using chairs, books and a hockey stick to hold it up in the middle. They brought in flashlights and stuffed animals, then spent the night in it. It stayed up the next day until: “We needed our kitchen table chairs,” said the administrator at Little Hearts Preschool and Child Care.

It’s a positive activity that engages a child’s imagination and problem-solving skills. And if they’re making a fort with others, they’re learning how to collaborate and work together, Reisdorf said.

Adults should offer guidance for problem-solving, but let the kids make the decisions, Thomas said. “There’s something about allowing things to fail that stimulates creativity,” she said.

Added Reisdorf: Let their imaginations run within the limits of your home, and let them lead. Don’t take over. “I relate it to doing art projects with preschool-age kids. Don’t have their art projects look like yours," she said. "If their eyes are in two different spots, let them be. They don’t have to be perfect.”

Build a blanket fort

Winter is the perfect time to break out the comforters and couch cushions for a blanket fort. Kids or no kids, they’re an attractive hideaway for reading, watching Netflix on your phone or stirring up shadow puppets.

Some assembly required, batteries not included. Here’s how to build a simple blanket fort.

  • Start with fort structure, chairs, tables, end tables, coat racks.

  • Drape lightweight sheets over your structure. If working with a table, put something heavy on top, such as books, so your roof doesn’t slide down.

  • Use a broom, hockey stick or umbrella if you’d like a pointed roof.

  • Add string lights, flashlights, camp lights.

  • Bring in blankets, couch cushions, stuffed animals, pillows for snuggling.

  • Add snacks, games, books and enjoy.