Imagination can take you anywhere.

“Stop! Don’t let the lava touch you! Quick, make it to the couch and you’ll be safe!”

For many of us, when we hear these words we nostalgically recall memories of sleepovers, riding the high seas with our neighbors, and blasting off to the moon in a rocket ship. Limited only by the expanses of our own imagination, building a fort was as timeless and limitless as the cardboard box it was built from.

Now in an era when academic pressures and technology seem to encompass our children’s experiences, taking a cardboard box and making into something more remains an imperative source of imaginative play and proves to offer foundational benefits needed to meet academic pressures.

Perseverance and grit, skills crucial for later success in the classroom, are developing while children work to balance, secure, and build. The 21st century skills of collaboration, communication, problem solving, and creativity – attributes that leading educators, neuroscientists, and child development experts all agree today’s children must develop to meet the demands of the future work force – are especially engaged while children partake in this activity.

Allowing imaginative play with household objects, like cardboard boxes and laundry baskets, can also be a tool to assist your children with emotional regulation and redirecting temper tantrums. Clinical child psychologist Dr. Wendy Mullins from Live.Move.Be Psychology explains that when a child is in a high emotional state, they are experiencing fight, flight, or freeze. Once a child enters a fort and outside visual stimulation is removed, the nervous system can relax allowing the body to return to   a calm state.

The magic in fort building all lies in the right hemisphere of the brain. Dr. Mullins explains, “anything that the real world limits is not off-limits in a fort. Because the outside world is out of sight, there is space for the imagination… astronauts, spies, pirates, cavemen escaping terrible beasts… whatever happens in the fort stays in the fort. It is a retreat that kids go to so they can activate their right hemisphere and engage their journey of expressing ideas and indulging possibilities. Traits that more grownups should have.”

Fort building by adults and for adults? Yes! Conduct a search for fort building on Pinterest and numerous tips and blogs will appear detailing how to be the best “pillow fort architect” with detailed diagrams for building the perfect date night spot complete with fairy lights and a cinematic experience. We have heard of the man cave, perhaps the next big thing is a bohemian mom retreat in the crawl space stocked with the dark chocolate too expensive to share and utter and complete, blessed silence to reground yourself.

Find a box, share that you are building a rocket, and observe as children squeal with delight, take the reins, and engage in nearly every component of South Dakota’s Early Learning Guidelines. Whatever your age, role, or creative ability grab some helmets and prepare to launch for escape!

Words by Megan Handshue
Photos by Jesse Brown Nelson


Tyson and Alexi from Summerset, SD knew exactly what to do when the toys and giant rocketship were set up and ready for blast off! Thanks for helping us with our photo shoot!