Children love to pretend. Some imagine they’re knights fighting fire-breathing dragons or princesses needing to be rescued. Others envision themselves as deep sea divers or their favorite cartoon character. Help your children have summer garden fun by learning how to build a tree house they can enjoy.

Even if you don’t have a huge tree which is perfect for putting a tree house, there are kits which create free-standing tree houses. Here are some tips for building a tree house which may make the process a little simpler for all involved.

Every tree house has three main components: foundation, posts and structure. The posts and foundation work together to create a tree house which is safe and sturdy. The structure – walls and roof – aren’t really necessary, but they sure do make the tree house more fun and more unique.

Start out by choosing a sturdy tree, one which has a large tree trunk and branches which reach out in different directions. You won’t expect the tree to support the entire weight of the tree house – instead you’ll use posts to spread the weight out so the tree isn’t damaged. The best design for a tree house will have four supporting posts, using the tree itself as a support or not (it isn’t really necessary). Many tree houses are designed with the tree growing from the center and not supporting the weight of the tree house at all.

Next it’s time to work on creating the foundation of the tree house. You can create your own plans, find some in a bookstore or library, or find free plans online. It is important to have straight boards across the posts to create a base on which to build the foundation. Then you can tie the foundation boards into the cross beams to create a solid base on which to add the remainder of the structure.

Be sure to consult your children as to what they want in their tree house. They may want a hidden door in the floor, windows, or any number of design elements. Perhaps they’d like to have a couple of rooms or maybe just one. They may even prefer to have posts holding up a roof to keep the elements out and use fabric as the walls.

If you’re not building walls onto the tree house, be sure to put railings around the base to keep your children safe. There are also stairs or ladders to consider and which type would be the safest. While discussing safety, it is also important to stress keeping things like wagons, bicycles or other items out from under ladders or stairs leading to the tree house. This way, if someone falls from the ladder they won’t land on anything except the ground.

Choose a location for a tree house where you’ll be able to keep an eye on the children while they play. You may want to put it in a tree near your garden so you can be available to the children while you’re working, or you may want to place it near a window so you can watch them from indoors. In any case, develop some rules about what is appropriate and what is not so the children will be safe in their new tree house this year and for years to come.