Saturday, March 3, 2012

Stick Forts and Brush Piles

We've been out exploring again and I wanted to share a fun activity that you can do if you have an abundance of sticks near your home - stick forts!  Kids love forts of all kinds, from those they create inside with chairs and blankets to little niches they find for themselves outside.  When I was young I lived in an apartment complex and one of the best things about it (besides having lots of kids to play with around - I always wanted to play school, if you can imagine that...) was that in the winter the plows would create massive piles of snow in the parking lot.  And, when I say massive, I mean MASSIVE - maybe 10 to 15 feet tall and three or four times as wide.  We quickly turned the snow piles into pretty elaborate snow forts, complete with a place to stock pile snow balls and dungeons.  This activity taps into that love of forts by creating a natural stick fort and in the process you can relate their new fort to how brush piles are used by small animals as both shelter and as a place to raise young.

Materials Needed:
  • sticks of a variety of lengths - pretty easy, right?
    Start by selecting a site that is appropriate for your stick fort.  It may be helpful to have a starting point against a tree stump or perhaps leaning the branches against a shorter branch from a tree, but its not necessary.  Continue to add sticks until you have roughly a tent-shaped structure.  As you build, have your child make some guesses about what types of animals might want to live in a shelter like the one you are building.

    You may want to add small logs or some flat stones as seats inside your structure.

    Our friend, Lucas, gathering a log to use as a seat.
    The completed stick fort.

    Discuss how the stick fort is similar to a brush pile for small animals and birds.  It provides shelter and protection from both the elements as well as larger animals that might try to harm them.  To illustrate this point, you can pretend that you are a larger animal (like a coyote) and your child(ren) are small animals and chase them into the stick fort.  Once there, you must abandon your chase because you are too big to follow them inside, thus leaving them safe.

    Picture of a natural brush pile taken on our Winter Nature Hike.
    Continue to add sticks periodically through the year as you find them.  You can also check the fort in different weather conditions to see how it would protect the animals inside.

    What's Happening?
    The stick fort that you created is similar to brush piles found in nature.  A wide variety of animals use brush piles for shelter, places to rear young and sometimes even as a food source.  You can often find tracks of small animals such as squirrels, chipmunks and even rabbits around a brush pile.  In addition, there are many ground nesting birds, such as juncos, spotted towhees and house wrens that may build their nests inside a brush pile.  Reptiles can also be found in brush piles and in some parts of the country, there are even certain butterflies that will overwinter in a brush pile.

    The spring is a great time to build a brush pile as you are cleaning up your yard from the winter season.  (They are also a great way to recycle old Christmas trees!)  A well-designed brush pile will last for years and can be fairly tall, from 4 to 8 feet, so you will need to think carefully about where you want to place it on your property and consider the tolerance of your neighbors.  In addition, some communities have regulations surrounding brush piles, so be sure to check those out as well.  The Human Society has a good overview of building a brush pile and you can also download a pdf for building a "Rabbitat" (which I think is hilarious!) from the State of Virginia with some clear directions.

    Consider creating a brush pile this spring for your bird and small animal friends as part of an effort to create a Certified Backyard Habitat for the National Wildlife Federation.  In order to certify your yard, you need to have the following: food sources, water sources, cover and places to raise young.  Once you get certified, you can even order a sign so that you can use to make your visitors and neighbors aware of your habitat.  Interested in the idea but don't have a backyard that would work?  You can also certify businesses, schools and places of worship.  Check out the National Wildlife Federation website for more information.  We plan on getting certified this summer!

    Science Process Skills Used In This Activity:

    Observing Communicating Classifying Measuring Inferring Predicting


    I hope you enjoy this activity!  If you try it, please leave me a comment to let me know how it goes!

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    1. Looks like a great idea! I think we'll try it this week! How long do you think they'll stay in the brush pile once I chase them inside? Just kidding! ;-)

      (Found your site via Mara. I love it!)

      1. Hmm... maybe we should add a part about having a picnic inside their stick fort/brush pile. I mean, some animals do use it as a food source... =)

    2. can i use salt for glitter instead of buying glitter in the store. will it change colour or rot on tree, if i can i surely will do that. i cant see why it wouldn't work. you could use table salt for fine and coaser salt for bigger glitter.

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