The Fort that Forged A Neighborhood

The new homes in our cul-de-sac and the surrounding streets house a large handful of 8-12 year-olds, all transplanted from other neighborhoods. Each has his or her own notions about competition, fairness and friendship. The first few summers felt like a soap opera of silly fights and resulting alliances that divided the kids into two groups.

All were basically good kids but one boy used his influence with some of the younger ones to create schemes to torment my children and their friends. Beyond just name calling, one day his young but tough sister led two others to ring our doorbell more than 30 times in a row during dinner. When we finally caught them, I brought my cordless phone with me and insisted that the instigators call their mothers from my front porch.

My son stewed over trying to make things right. “What can I do?”

“Be a leader and include them,” we said. But to be honest, we didn’t really know what would work.

This summer, in an unrelated strategy, we set aside busy scheduled activities and challenged our children to creatively fill their own unstructured time. Within weeks, my two youngest began building a fort on our property line with a neighbor—the leader of the other group!

Now, they spend hours every day planning, hauling and building. Right now, while I type, neighbor kids—from both sides—hammer and dig alongside the two leaders, my son and the former bully.

They’ve disagreed, of course. Last week this boy came over and told my son, “I’m quitting the fort.”

“Are you worried?” We asked him.

“No, he’ll be back.”

And he was.

They took us on a tour. Their former fort floor was scattered in discarded remnants on the ground. We asked about them. They explained they’d had to tear it up a summer’s worth of work and rework the design. Clearly, they cooperated. The power is in the process, not necessarily the end result.

1 Comment

  1. Sarah
    Aug 11, 2008

    very clever! I love to see children using their imagination. Focusing on creative productivity was a great answer to the problem. They will never forget these times and what they did together.

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