Our completed outdoor play tent, constructed by Mama and the boys in one morning!

Our completed outdoor play tent, constructed by Mama and the boys in one morning!

We are staring down the tunnel at winter. The days are getting darker, we set the clocks back tonight, and this morning the back deck was sprinkled with hail. We got off pretty easy as far as winter last year. There were a few snowstorms and we did get in some skiing and a winter cabin camping adventure, but it was still 70 degrees on Christmas Day and the snow never lasted between storms. This year, I am convinced we won’t get off so easy. We have already booked our winter cabin camping trip (hoping for more fluffy white stuff and less hard-packed trail ice this year). And I’m making a mental list of how to make our outdoor space more friendly through the winter.   

Little Bear peaks out from a lunch picnic in the old plastic playhouse.

Little Bear peaks out from a lunch picnic in the old plastic playhouse.

When we got rid of our plastic playground climbers and clubhouse last month and made way for a new natural playground, the one major piece missing from our work-in-progress was a sort of hideout for the boys. In fact, not long after the nature playscape was complete, they had relocated all of the free pieces to a shady little clearing under my lilacs, which they called their “campsite”. I had always intended to build some type of structure for the boys to play in. Originally, I wanted it to be something that they could build and take apart themselves, like a natural lean-to, but at ages 3.5 and newly 5, they don’t really have the strength or coordination to handle very long pieces of wood and I wanted the structure to be big enough and cozy enough to host our rainy (and soon snowy) day picnics. As much as I hated the plastic play structure, that clubhouse hosted many cozy inclement weather meals for me and the boys over the past few years. 

So this morning, with The Captain halfway through a two-week stint on his tugboat, I began my own hasty search for a suitable structure that would blend in with our natural space while offering shelter and coziness. To be honest, what I really wanted was a giant traditional teepee, complete with smoke flaps and a liner and room for a fire in the middle. But it didn’t take long for me to decide that that’s beyond my solo-build-in-a-morning skill set, not to mention that the footprint would be too big in our backyard. I looked at smaller, kid-sized teepees but didn’t think they’d allow enough room for me and the boys to crowd in through the winter.

Eventually I found some plans for play tents. These seemed both roomy enough to accommodate the family, but simple enough that I could build one on my own in one morning. We are lucky in that we have a stockpile of scrap wood, tools, and sail canvas at our disposal, all of which would be needed for this project. A simple play tent appealed to me for its simplicity and the fact that I already had most of the supplies on hand. One quick trip to the hardware store, $18.35 spent, and we were ready to go.

Interested in making your own? Check out my step-by-step directions below!

Materials, plus an old pallet that we grabbed to use as flooring.

Materials, plus an old pallet that we grabbed to use as flooring.

Materials:

-4 2”x3”x6’ (I would have actually preferred 1”x2” or 1”x3” but they didn’t have them, so I went with what they had in stock – the lengths were 8’ but they cut them for me)

-2 bolts long enough to fit through two of the pieces used above, I used 6” carriage bolts

-2 nuts to fit the bolts above

-10 3” wood screws

-5 2”x3”x5’

-One piece of canvas, 60” x 140”

Process:

Little helpers are always eager to use power tools!

Little helpers are always eager to use power tools!

Pre-drill a hole on the centerline 10” from one end of the 6’ lengths of wood. Repeat on all four pieces. These will be your frames.

The primary frames, with predrilled holes bolted together.

The primary frames, with predrilled holes bolted together.

Use the bolts to connect two pairs of the predrilled holes. Hand tighten a nut on each one. They should now effectively be hinged on one end.

Primary frames, with bases screwed on and perpendicular frame in place.

Primary frames, with bases screwed on and perpendicular frame in place.

Use wood screws to connect one of the 5’ lengths to the bottom ends of the frames, making each into a triangle.

Raise the frames and use one 5’ length placed in the top Y, perpendicular to each frame. Secure in place with a screw at each end. 

Completed tent frame. (Note: I added additional strapping towards the peak, not necessary if you use the materials listed above).

Completed tent frame. (Note: I added additional strapping towards the peak, not necessary if you use the materials listed above).

Screw two more 5’ lengths between the bottoms of the frames, thereby connecting them with a square base.   

Use the canvas to cover the tent. Secure in place with wood staples if desired.

I used some additional pieces of strapping across the top to sturdy up the structure but those won’t be necessary if you use 2x3s along the base (which I didn’t – I just used the scrap wood we already had). We also put a used pallet inside to create a floorspace.

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The boys wanted to put their sleeping bags in the tent to make it “cozy” and constructed their own benches to go around the fire pit for dinner.

The boys immediately took a liking to their new play tent, but were disappointed when they heard we wouldn’t actually be sleeping in it that night. Instead, we built in a fire in our backyard fire pit and the boys constructed some benches around it to enjoy an al fresco fireside dinner in celebration of our new “home”.

 

This is one happy camper here.

This is one happy camper here.

Our completed outdoor play tent!

Our completed outdoor play tent!