Tired of the indoors? Try an outdoor shelter instead! – Beginning shelter creation activity – Outdoor Education 10-12

Share this post

It’s the age old outdoor education lesson:

– 3 minutes without air.

– 3 hours without shelter.

– 3 days without water.

– 30 days without food.

Well, we may not be able to help you with your student’s ability to locate air, but if you are trying to teach them how to build a shelter, we may have some ideas.

Here’s a brief outline for the lesson:


  1. We have just got back from our hike and want to see how prepared you were for a “worst case scenario”.

  2. Using a tarp, foam pad, 4 feet of twine, and whatever is in your daypacks, students will build a shelter that is adequately located and large enough for their group.

 Make sure to have tarps, and pads, and rope on hand for students


  1. Split students into groups of about four.

  2. Tell the group that they will have about 40 minutes to build a shelter using just the items provided and what they find at the site.

  3. Encourage them to consider the slope of their location, relationship to the wind or sunrays, etc.

  4. Everyone must be able to fit inside the shelter (alternative: shelter for just one person), and everyone must participate in making it.

 Emphasize collaboration and critical thinking here.


  1. Once they begin, circulate among the groups and ask them about their choice of location for their shelter and the shelter’s entrance. Give suggestions when necessary but let them try ideas on their own and evaluate their success. Watch to make sure the adults don’t take over the activities of the group. 

  2. After the allotted time gather everyone, and start the “Parade of Homes”.

 Options here to put shelters to the test.

– Got a bucket of water?

– A way to gust some wind?



This is a fun way to have the students think about their crafting.


  1. At the end, have a “Parade of Homes” where each group can show off their shelter and explain how and why it was constructed to the other groups.  

  2. Ask students to explain their reasons for location, reasons for design, any elements they are worried about, and what they would add if they had more time. 

  3. Give feedback and suggestions where needed.

Explain, explain, explain. Justification is everything. Forcing the students to think about why they made their decisions will often make for more intentional attempts in the future.


  1. Have students discuss their experiences building the shelter (what went well, what was hard, how they made decisions, etc.)

  2. Opportunity for journal reflection.


 Reflection is key. I am always a fan of the big three questions:


1. What did you learn?


2. How did it go?
3. Where will you take this learning next time?



These are the basics, for more information, discussion of the knots that you will need to learn how to tie, or the types of shelters that may or may not work.

Where else can you find information of shelters?

Lean To
Looking for innovative WILD ABOUT Outdoor Learning ideas.
Scroll to Top