The art of cubby-building appears to be a mainstay in the historical development of children. Though it is known by many names (fort building/hut making), the essence always remains the same – groups of children banding together, working independently and creating their own space with little adult involvement. They take long pieces of wood and nail them haphazardly into trees and posts, adding and building with seemingly no definite plan. The structures the children create are often wobbly, irregular, have little nooks and crannies and may appear amateurish or messy. What is to be remembered is that it is not the structure itself that is of prime significance, but the process the children undertake, what problems they may encounter and how they work together as a group to solve these problems. Most important of all is the children’s ‘ownership’ of the task.

Cubby-making is a serious business. The membership of the group must be decided, an area chosen, an idea discussed, resources and tools collected before construction can even begin. All group members may have different ideas about what they want the cubby to look like, how it should be built and who gets to use what. At each stage of construction, the cubby must pass the ‘bump test’ to ensure that it is structurally sound and can take additional load or is strong enough to support a roof.

Squabbles sometimes erupt, tools are downed, frustrated words exchanged and some members may leave in a huff. In encountering these problems, the children become resourceful. They share ideas, discuss the problems, negotiate solutions, discuss safe and equitable use of the tools and decide on agreed goals. There is no better real-life experience for children on how to deal with conflict, share decision-making, work cooperatively in a group and work collectively to realise a common goal than cubby-building.

The cycle of goal-setting, conflict resolution, negotiation, collaboration and cooperation is ongoing and reminds children that sometimes, especially when working with others, ‘life wasn’t meant to be easy’.

It takes real effort on the part of a group to transform a pile of wood and a handful of nails into a cubby. As the structure begins to take shape, the more ambitious members of the group may feel that it needs to ‘go up’ and a debate on a second-storey extension begins. The ‘proposers’ must state their reasons and ideas for the extension to the other members of the group.

Questions are asked and clarified, plans altered in order to reflect the ideas and opinions of other children and the group votes on the proposal. Often, the children will insist that a majority vote will not win and that consensus from all group members is required. And so, within meaningful and relevant contexts, the children learn about democratic process, resolving conflict, compromise and working together to achieve a common goal.

Taken from the Arlington Curriculum Document December 2007