Fairyhouse 1: A fairyhouse stands on a mossy rock of the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay after being pieced together by attendees of the Maine Fairy House Festival in 2010. Credit: Aislinn Sarnacki

Fairy house building is a creative outdoor activity that can expand the imagination and bring to life the small things in nature that are easy to overlook. All you need is a small outdoor space and a few natural materials. Then — taking as much time as you want — construct a small home, fit for a fairy, frog or any other small creature that comes to mind.

This zero-cost activity is great for kids, families and even adults who are looking for ways to have fun in their own backyards. And right now, as people stay at home and practice social distancing during this stressful time, fairy house building may be just the thing to take people’s minds off the pandemic — even if it’s just for a few minutes.

[Build a fairy house and send us your photos by April 10]

But first, here are a few guidelines and suggestions for building a fairy house.

Fairy house rules

Fairy house building is simple and has just a few rules, according to Liza Gardner Walsh, a Maine children’s librarian and author who has written several books about fairy houses, including “Fairy House Handbook,” “Fairy House Cooking” and “Fairy House Crafts.”

“It’s really the most open-ended activity that I know of,” Walsh said. “Generally you’re just trying to make a small shelter out of natural materials.”

While gathering these materials, one important rule is to not cause harm to the environment. For example, if you want to use bark, don’t take it from living trees. Instead, search for trees that are dead and on the ground.

The location of your fairy house is also important to consider. In some shared outdoor spaces, such as preserves and parks, building a fairy house may not be appropriate. Many people visit these places to enjoy nature, not man-made structures. In addition, these places may be home to rare plants and delicate habitats that could be damaged by the fairy house building process.

When in doubt, ask permission from the landowner.

For this reason, one of the best places to build a fairy house is on your own property.

Credit: Aislinn Sarnacki

How to get started

The first thing you have to do when building a fairy house is decide on a good location. Do you want the structure to be visible or tucked away? Do you want it in the woods or yard or garden?

“I think for starting out, it’s great to lean up against a tree or rock or rock wall or foundation,” Walsh said. “It just kind of creates an already set wall. And if you have a property that has some natural features like tree hollows and logs and stumps, those are really good, too.”

Once you’ve decided on a location, you can either plan out your structure or you can start gathering and let the materials inspire the type of structure you create. You can also do some planning indoors, ahead of time, by drawing up a few blueprints.

“You could do an A-frame or a teepee or just a square little cottage with four pieces of bark — however you want to do it,” Walsh said. “Then you can also furnish it, make beds and things.”

Fairy houses come in all shapes and sizes. Some are simple and meant to be temporary, while others are more intricate and are constructed to last longer. Whatever you come up with, rest assured that your construction is unique and wonderful in its own right.

“It’s relaxing,” Walsh said. “There’s a therapeutic benefit to this. Kids lose themselves in it. It takes their minds off things. It’s free. And a little magic never hurts during these confusing times.”

Credit: Sarah Walker Caron

Tips for building

While building your fairy house, remember that this activity isn’t just about the final masterpiece. Take time to explore nature and search for different materials. Use your imagination and have fun with it.

“I think it’s such a great activity for families to do together, but it’s also a great activity for kids to do by themselves and take ownership of their creations,” Walsh said. “Again, it’s an open-ended thing. You could build a whole village for your family. Everyone in your house could have their own little fairy house.”

Common materials used in fairy houses include bark, twigs, dead leaves, rocks, acorns and pinecones.

“Sometimes during this time of year, you can find dried plants and flowers from your garden, if you didn’t cut it back,” Walsh said. “And acorn caps make perfect [fairy] plates.”

Fairy house building is a year-round activity. So if you live in an area of Maine where there’s still snow on the ground, simply incorporate snow and ice into your design. Or, if the snow is rapidly melting, you could clear the ground where you plan to build.

There are usually plenty of natural materials outside to work with, even if the ground is covered in snow. But you can also search for natural materials inside your house, Walsh said. Building a fairy house is the perfect opportunity to dig out your seashell or rock collection. As long as the materials are natural, they’re OK for a fairy house.

Once you’ve completed your build, you can simply leave it as it is, or you can maintain it or add to it in the days to come. The amount of time you spend with this activity can vary greatly from just a few minutes to multiple days or weeks.

“You could spend one day gathering materials, the next day building and the third furnishing, and then you can maintain and add things,” Walsh said. “After a windstorm or rain, you may need to rebuild parts of it. Kids can continually go out and monitor it. They may even check for signs of fairies visiting.”

Aislinn Sarnacki

Aislinn Sarnacki is a Maine outdoors writer and the author of three Maine hiking guidebooks including “Family Friendly Hikes in Maine.” Find her on Twitter and Facebook @1minhikegirl. You can also...