Fairy Houses: Outdoor Imaginary Fun

by Jenni Frankenberg Veal on March 5, 2011

“Fairies live in nature and if you look really closely, you can see them in the trees when you see sparkles.”  - 6-year-old fairy house builder

Elves, gnomes, pixies and flower fairies have lit the imagination of children and adults alike throughout time. In the 1902 novel The Little White Bird, J.M. Barrie wrote a story of the origin of fairies:

“When the first baby laughed for the first time, his laugh broke into a million pieces and they all went skipping about. That was the beginning of fairies.”

In today’s world where the average child spends an average of six hours a day in front of the television and computer and less than 30 minutes playing outdoors each week, childhood could use a little bit of “fairy magic” to help get kids outside and use their imaginations.

Building fairy houses has become somewhat of a phenomenon around the country. New England author and illustrator Tracy Kane has led the charge in an imaginative effort to help reconnect families with the natural world. Kane’s inspiration came from seeing fairy houses built in the woods on a small island off the coast of New England. I recommend her books and video, which can be found on her website at www.fairyhouses.com.

Artist Sally Smith with Greenspirit Arts creates some of the most artistic and magical fairy houses I have ever seen. We bought one of her calendars last year and each month had an enchanting house that I wish I could move into myself!

Fairy houses are small whimsical habitats made from natural materials that children and parents dream up to attract fairies and their animal friends. They can be made out of natural materials such as sticks, bark, stones, dry grasses, pebbles, shells, pine cones and nuts.

These elfin abodes can be built: on the front lawn, in a crook or stump of a tree, in a patch of woods, along a creek, or in a flower basket on the front porch. The whole idea is to get outdoors and enjoy exploring all that can be found there.

At our home, my daughters have named a patch of woods nearby “Fairy Woods.” The fairy homes they’ve built there are, generally, in various stages of disrepair – a fairy condo made out of hemlock branches that collapsed in the snow and a small fairy treehouse made last summer that has lost all structure and form. None of that matters though because it is the building process – hunting for natural materials, constructing the house, and imagining how the fairies will enjoy their time there – that is important.

“When I am building a fairy house, I think about the little fairies that need a home and the little rooms I am building them,” says an 8-year-old fairy house builder. “I like to build fairy houses because they are cute, and I like to see if any fairies have visited.”

Fairy houses are one more way for parents to combat nature-deficit disorder, a term coined by author Richard Louv in his book Last Child in the Woods that describes what happens to children and society when kids stop going outside to play.

A founder of the Leave No Child Inside movement (outlined in a 2007 issue of Orion Magazine), Louv stresses the importance of children being familiar with the natural environment around them – of having some ownership of nature.

Building fairy houses is just one of many ways parents can encourage their child’s outdoor exploration and imaginative fun in nature.

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