Outdoor Activity - Building a Lean-To

Camp allows kids to learn more about the outdoors.  It introduces them to new ways to connect with nature.  In a fast paced world filled with videos games, high definition television, and 3D movies camp allows kids to get outside, get fresh air, and to learn to love and appreciate the outdoors.

One of my most memorable outdoor camp activities was at a day camp I attended in Edmonton’s River Valley.  It was the day they taught us how to build lean-tos.  The instruction was focused on survival skills and the ‘what to do if you’re lost in the woods overnight’ scenario.  I still remember it because the activity itself was fun and it really built on my self confidence.  I remember feeling like I could actually survive in the forest alone at night, should that ever happen.
The lean-to is probably the easiest wilderness shelters to build.  If your camp has a forest or a treed area you could easily include this activity in your adventure programming.  You can use all natural materials like evergreen bows and logs or you can provide the kids with tarps. 
Lean-tos are usually built with three sides covered to protect you from the elements and retain warmth, and one side open for easy access.  Explain to the kids that they are easy to build in a short amount of time so you don’t exert too much energy.  It’s important to safe your energy in a survival situation. 

Preparing for the activity:

  • Look for thinner trees or saplings that are 6 to 10 feet apart from each other.  Try to find an area in your forest or treed area that has several potential lean-to sites.  It’s best if the forest floor between the small trees is relatively flat.
  • Make sure there are lots of thinner locks and branches in the area.  Allow the kids to gather the materials themselves, but ensure they don’t have to wander off into the woods too far to get them.
  • The activity leader should set themselves up in the middle of the area with a large spool of rope and a knife or scissors.  Have the kids come to you to get pieces of rope as they need them.

Running the Activity:

  • Split them up into groups of 3 or 4.
  • Find two smaller trees or saplings that are 6 to 10 feet apart.  An adult should be able to lie down between them easily.  These are your post trees
  • Find a long, sturdy branch on the ground for your support beam.  Have their members hold the beam while one team member ties it to the post trees.  Demonstrate how to tie it so they will have a good idea.
  • Once it is tied at both ends find other long branches from the forest and lean them up against it at an angle.  It has to be a wide angle so a person can lay and sit down under it and not get wet if it is raining.  Here is where you can provide tarps and have them tie a tarp down instead of leaning branches.  If not, just have them use dead fall.

    Explain that in a real survival situation they would want to use pine boughs.  By layering thick boughs they can create a shelter than will protect them from elements like rain or wind.  They could also use layered leafy branches.  A layer of leafy branches a foot thick could potentially be waterproof.  For the sake of the activity, just use dead fall around the area.

    Depending on how much time you have, you can have them tie each leaning branch onto the support beam.  If not, just have them lean them.  Explain the shelter would be more secure if they were each tied, but since it’s just an hour activity they will just lean them. 
  • Once they have completed the roof they can start building the floor.  Have them layer the ground with the same leaves, deal/alive evergreen branches, or near-by grasses.  This will prevent the loss of heat through the ground.
  • If there is still time they can build walls on the sides and explain that in a survival situation they would build a fire near the opening of the shelter.  If it was a cold night, tell them they should gather heavy evergreen boughs and layer them on top of their bodies like blankets.  This will help retain warmth.
I think this activity is the most fun because it's like building forts.  Children will be proud of their finished product and will have learned a valuable outdoor skill.

Have fun!
Categories: Activities, Camp Games, Camp Resources