Sheltered accommodation

Glen Reeve-Fowkes shows how making a shelter can be a cross-curricular activity

How does a project in which pupils design and model outdoor portable shelters help teachers integrate design and technology with other aspects of the curriculum?

In Damp;T it is helpful to include six different objectives relating to the development of knowledge, skills and understanding. It is progression in each of these which produces results. Children need to be taught to:

* extend their designing and evaluative skills

* consider ways of communicating and developing their ideas through talking, drawing, modelling and writing

* think about the aesthetic aspects of their design

* apply scientific principles in their design

* learn to select from a range of materials

* be aware of factors which influence their ideas, such as environmental concerns, cultural influences, costs.

This framework immediately makes links across the curriculum, and can support "working smarter not harder". If children are to design innovatively and successfully, we need to capture their interest by context. There are numerous starting points but let's consider a portable shelter for a fictitious character. Harry Potter setting off on a camping expedition springs to mind. Whether final designs are produced in groups or by individuals will depend on time and resources. It is possible to scale up the designs using bamboo canes and provide shade for pupils during the summer in play areas. This is design and technology with a real purpose and client.

Glen Reeve-Fowkes is design and technology adviser in Cornwall and co-manages the Design and Making Centre, Cornwall The Design and Making Centre provides curriculum advice, illustrated resource packs, materials and equipment for Damp;T from early years onwards. This article is based on the DMC resource pack Shelters, pound;3.95.DMC, Church Road, Pool, Redruth, Cornwall TR15 3PZTel: 01209 719354Email:


An investigation into existing portable shelters such as tents, using camping brochures and websites, would give the children ideas and could link to maths, art and geography as they consider shape, size and purpose. There can be links to other cultures if tepees, yurts and gers are included.


Will the shelter protect from wind, rain, sun - or all three? Is the shelter to blend into the surroundings or is it better to be conspicuous? Technical language (for example, tension, compression, strut, insulation, ventilation, portable, compact) can be introduced and explored. After defining the features of a good portable shelter, the pupils should write a specification, which can later be used to evaluate both design and product.


Drinking straws are great for modelling ideas quickly. Candy floss sticks and short lengths of plastic tubing can also be used. Children will need to consider how the wind will affect the stability of their designs. (Blu-tac is a good stand-in for the ground and will hold struts at an angle or vertically.)


Kite material and dipryl (a bonded textile which is strong, yet easy for children to cut and join) are useful for investigating suitable characteristics for the outer shell. In practice, Dipryl is an ideal material. It can be joined by stapling, gluing or stitching and then tensioned over the framework using elastic bands, cord or string as guys.

Quality control

The best ways of joining frames and textiles can be displayed on a "chooser" board. This is a useful reference for pupils, encourages independent learning and acts as a quality control point when the children begin to make in earnest.

After practical exploration but before the final build, pupils can record and annotate their ideas. They often find it easier to draw on centimetre squared paper. This enables more accurate connections to be made between side, front elevation and plan views. These drawings can then be scaled up more accurately to produce working drawings for struts and supports and as templates for the textile covering. Once it's all down on paper, it's time to attempt the real thing.

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