Backyard Shelters for a Night Under the Stars


Now I see the secret of making the best person:   it is to grow in the open air and to eat and sleep with the Earth.

– Walt Whitman

Sleeping in the outdoors has been linked to many health benefits and helps kids form a more intimate connection with Nature.  Let the kids make some good old fashioned backyard shelters and forts for an overnight camp out in the backyard – they’ll make memories to cherish for years to come.

Shelters can be simple or elaborate as the imagination allows!  Shelter building allows kids to get creative while honing their problem solving skills, group skills and math skills!

Lean-To Shelter

A sturdy cross beam held in place by good rope lashed properly is essential for safety and well being of those sleeping under the shelter.

*Make sure you’ve got the materials in this list before you begin your lean to project.

The lean to should have it’s back to the prevailing winds and be deep enough for getting completely under.  If you have a firepit, you can face it so that the open part faces the fire pit, but not so close that embers from the fly can land on  sleeping bags or clothes!

  • Sturdy Cross Beam (about 8 feet long but big enough to span two standing trees.
  • 2 pieces of rope (5 feet long each) to lash each end of the cross beam to each tree.
  • 10 to 15 pieces of dead fall about  6 to 8 feet long to lean on the cross beam and make the ceiling of the shelter
  • Tarp for the ground, optional tarp for the ceiling too
  • Spruce Branches for bedding and to fill in gaps in the ceiling to make it wind and rain proof

Double Lean To Shelter (photo by K Schwengler)

Simple Shelter/Blanket Fort

This is a  good summer option when it’s too hot to sleep in the house!  We used a mosquito net to sleep outside under the shelter of a covered deck, but you can tie a sturdy rope between two trees and toss a tarp or blanket over the rope to make a tent of sorts.  Weigh the blanket down with rocks and put some mats or a tarp on the ground before you put the sleeping bags on the ground.


Sleeping under a mosquito net by K Schwengler

Good Old Fashioned Tenting!

Let the kids figure out how to set the tent up with just a bit of guidance from parents!

Backyard Tenting by K Schwengler

Round Lodge

Round Lodges, Wickiups and Tipis are great backyard shelters.  Tipis are most familiar with their long vertical poles and a cover.  Wickiups are similar but smaller and more oval in shape, often with interwoven cross braces.  A round lodge is a bit of a hybrid.  Cover your round lodge or wickiup with moss and vines and let it become a feature in your garden! The kids will love it!

  • 3 long sturdy poles about 10 feet long to make the main tripod stand
  • 4 feet of rope to wrap securely about the 3 main poles
  • Tie cross braces to the three main poles to make horizontal braces
  • Pile on deadfall and slimmer poles vertically, using the horizontal braces as a means of holding up the slimmer sticks.
  • Finally, add spruce boughs or moss to cover the shelter and fill in the gaps
  • You can use tarps or old blankets to cover your round lodge if you don’t have enough sticks or boughs



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