Many of the kids in AFiN live on the same block – a block that has 19 boys and only 1 girl on it. The boys are at that critical age where most kids are moving inside to play video games for 8 hours a day. With the minimal work of suggesting more interesting alternatives to playing inside, this has luckily not happened for these boys. They have found a way to continue to play and hang out together outside, and this is one of their current favorite activities that they came up with all on their own.

For the last 3 months or so, the boys have been coming over to our house to build a village in our backyard. The houses are tiny and made only of natural materials and occasionally string. To others, these houses would be called fairy houses, though of course the boys (ages 7-11) call them (tiny) Native American houses. The “game” of building the village has progressively become more and more intricate and involved.

They now have a system of money (tiny fossils that are sorted from our playground pea gravel), names, totems, territories, and even jobs. One child is the toolmaker and sits in the corner (for safety) with his pocket knife (knife safety learned in AFiN) and whittles tiny tools for the other kids to “buy” with their fossils. One child makes boats (tiny ones – 3 inches long – complete with miniscule paddles). One weaves rope nests and “emergency rings” which seem to be similar to life preservers. One child digs new hobbit-style home sites. One scouts for fallen bark to make roofs out of.

The storyline also includes wolves that attack the village at night (raccoons, squirrels, our dog – anything that ransacks the village while the kids are not in the yard.) Now the boys are establishing a second village that they can trade with. And so the game will continue until the mosquitos chase the kids out of our yard until next fall.

About a month into the game, our local botanical gardens, Zilker Botanical Gardens, announced that they were going to have a fairy house architecture exhibit. Individuals or teams could enter their houses in either the professional category (architects, builders) or the amateur category (kids, garden clubs, families, etc…). This was the perfect event to extend the creative activity that many of the AFiN kids had been working on with their “Tiny Native American village.” So I entered AFiN into the amateur category and Zilker Botanical Gardens gave us a large area with plenty of space for everyone who wanted to participate.

AFiN met at our house to build the week before the fairy houses were to be installed at the botanical gardens. Then the following Saturday, everyone brought their fairy houses and “landscaping” materials to Zilker Botanical Gardens to install them into the space we were assigned.installation I

Throughout the months of March, April and May, the fairy houses will be on display at Zilker Botanical Gardens. There are many themed events surrounding the project such as fairy garden design lessons and a garden tea party. The first event after the houses were installed was a night walk through the new fairy villages. The houses and paths were lit up, and there was music and dancing for the kids. A few of the boys (too big to dance with fairies) spent the whole evening proudly giving tours of their fairy village.

Fairy house building is an inexpensive, hands-on, open ended, creative activity that kids can do just about anywhere outside. And as AFiN discovered, designing and building structures appeals to almost any age and definitely to both genders.

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