Cubbies and Why Kids Need to Hide

About now, we’d normally be gearing up for 4,000 cubby builders to descend on Yanchep National Park and transform a tranquil patch of grass into the shanty citadel that is Cubby Town.

Our friends at Yanchep National Park would be making great piles of branches they’d collected over six-months, we’d be arranging for truckloads of cardboard boxes to arrive, and we’d both be preparing ourselves for the glorious chaos of thousands of cubbies being constructed, demolished, and constructed again.

Sadly, a little thing called COVID-19 has got in the way of us hosting the event this year. But that doesn’t mean it can’t go ahead, it just means that this year Cubby Town is happening at your place.

A few tips on hosting your own Cubby Town:

  • Reduce the participant numbers by about 3,995, or so
  • Keep it simple. No blueprints, how to guides, or copies of House and Garden required
  • Use what you have. Boxes, blankets, sheets, pegs, brooms, chairs, pillows etc
  • Let your kids be the engineers (if it falls down that’s OK, they’ll learn)
  • Adults only take part if your invited – if you are invited make sure you let the kids run the show
  • Embrace the mess – it’s where creativity comes from

So, why would you do that? What is it about building cubbies that is so important that it’s worth turning your lounge room or your garden bed into a construction zone?

Firstly, it’s fun. And self-generated fun is really good for kids. Not only does it make for a great day and fire up kid’s physical energy (which means they will sleep longer), but it is also a life-skill. Learning, and knowing, that you don’t have to rely on external entertainments to be happy is huge. Boredom be damned, you can make your own fun!

Secondly, it introduces children to the magic of making stuff. There’s the type of making stuff where you just start doing, and something unintended emerges. And then there’s the type of making stuff where you form an image in your mind, and then go about bringing that image to life in the real world. Both types are great for kid’s brains, for their curiosity, and for their confidence.

Thirdly, there is something powerful in the fact that cubbies are at kid scale. Kid’s live in a world where most things have been made for someone twice their size. A cubby has a closeness about it that is nurturing and stimulating. These aren’t the cavernous rooms filled with shadows and the spaces behind and underneath things, or the litany of adult-world objects with all their processes and rules. A cubby is an intimate space that’s yours. A space your stories, and your half stories, can occupy.

And lastly – actually there is no lastly with cubbies. But I will finish my little list with this, cubbies are a place to not be seen, and sometimes to hide. As someone who owns a driver’s licence and a pair of work shoes it is easy to forget how important it is for kids to hide. But take a moment to delve back into the childhood you (a cubby is a good place to do it) and remember the relief, excitement, and peace of not being seen.

Kids, you remember, spend a very large part of their lives under observation and being taught things. And that is very tiring, and often frustrating. Imagine if your boss watched you all day while you worked. Right there at your shoulder, telling you things. And then came home and told you how to eat peas.

You might just want to scream. And say no to peas.

So, moments of not being seen are a relief for children. They are a time when the external inputs can be paused, or at least chosen. A break. A time to roll things around a bit. A time to process and reflect the inputs, and reflect on things in their own way, often through play, or story, or drawing, and without having to explain it to anyone why you’ve drawn your dad with tiny head.

A cubby in the garden, or in the lounge room, or on the ground next to their beds, or at the park at the end of the street with their friends when they are old enough, is a bolt hole. It is not just something they have made, it is their place. And a place where their lives can be their own.