Why is cubby building such an important childhood experience?
Looking through a collection of sepia photographs picturing bush huts and tents, plus stick furniture from the pioneering days of Australia, a child calls out, “Oh great! Can we make a big tent like that?” And so, the inspiration had started to well up in the group and set an eagerness to build. They had seen my tripod stick chair as they came in. They also saw me sit gingerly in the chair and watched it collapse. While this was a humourous situation, it provided a great challenge. Who dared sit in the chair and who could make a better one? The group at our Roving Bush Huts event all carefully tried the precarious chair and set about to either create a better chair of their own or a giant communal pioneer tent.
This was not just cubby building. The inspiration of history and engineering challenges deepened the curiousity and motivated the group to build structures with added extras. Not only were there hammock chairs but there were additional verandahs to keep the sun out. There was a tee-pee decked out with a table, small pretend fire and even a food roaster. In the big bush hut, the cross-pieces down each side were connected with fabric to become a hammock. On the other side was a table to hold their morning tea. The boys in this cubby used the “little sister test”. This involved helping their sister into the hammock. Luckily, they caught her when their knots gave way. Eventually, they made it strong enough for one of them, plus their little sister.
So much energy was invested into these huts and eventually the question came, “Miss, can we take this home? Can we keep it?” It is one of the saddest things in our programs, having to take cubbies down. This is why, according to Professor David Sobel, children need to have special places.
“Feeling a sense of place in adulthood leads us to a commitment to preserve the integrity of the communities we live in. Developing this sense of place depends on the previous bonding of the child to the nearby natural world in middle childhood. The sense of place is born in children’s special places… If we allow children to shape their own small worlds in childhood, then they will grow up knowing and feeling that they can participate in shaping the big world tomorrow.” David Sobel, 2001 (Children’s Special Places: Exploring the Role of Forts, Dens, and Bush Houses in Middle Childhood, Wayne State University Press, USA)
I wonder if older children have learnt to calculate how much creative energy they will invest in an activity. Especially when they know they have to take it apart in the end. We have seen this in school playgrounds. Schools with enough stick resources, where the children are not forced to dismantle the cubbies regularly, have the most elaborate structures. Perth needs more permanent spaces for children to build their own special places. Places they can revisit and deepen the bonds to the small world they have shaped. And also to the natural world that surrounds them.
Backyards are shrinking and there is less access to the ‘vacant lot’. As a result additional opportunities need to be made for children to explore place-making. Your children can be involved through our KIN Village holiday program, through our Bush Huts school incursion, or talk to your local council about our Roving Cubby Building program to activate local parks.