Earlier this year, a few days after my daughter finished reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, she came down with a fever and had to stay home from school. I kept her company that day and, by 10 am, we were both fairly bored. As she sat on the couch, listlessly playing with some new Harry Potter Lego mini-figures, out of nowhere, I asked her, “Hey, wanna make them their own Hogwarts?” Her eyes INSTANTLY perked up and that kicked off one of the most purely fun sick days we’d ever shared.
I ran around the house, collecting every appropriately-sized cardboard box that might make a good Great Hall, dormitory, or potions classroom. I then gathered up all the cardboard cylinders I could – paper towel rolls, wrapping paper tubes, a breadcrumbs container, etc. – to make castle towers, tunnels, and, in, at least one case, a Chamber of Secrets. We raided ever dollhouse and Playmobil set my daughter owned for furnishings and, after she insisted on making her own Forbidden Forest, we used an old piece of posterboard to act as our foundation, allowing us to sketch out the perimeter of the grounds and attach a series of plastic trees (mostly old birthday cake toppers) using globs of Play-Doh.
Here are some pictures cataloging our Homemade Hogwarts. (If you click on any of these, it will take you to a bigger version of the picture AND an online album with even more pictures of “the grounds.”)
We’re not a particularly “crafty” family. We don’t paint murals on our walls or hand-make our own Valentine’s Day cards or anything. But, for whatever reason, my feverish daughter and I embraced this homemade Hogwarts project with both hands, working on it for hours. We geeked out over every detail and even learned to love all of its wonderfully well-intentioned mistakes and imperfections. This isn’t a Pottery Barn Hogwarts. This is a cobbled-together, warts and all, magic-marker-and-scotch-tape Hogwarts, born of discarded Amazon boxes and the love of a six-year-old.
We adored building it so much that it remained in the center of our dining room floor for MONTHS (until we eventually carefully transplanted it down to the basement playroom).
I know dioramas can seem like a very Lisa Simpson thing to do, but, if you and your kids love a book that has a very specific location in it – Camp Half-Blood, the Spiderwick Estate, the town of Chewandswallow, Harold’s purple crayon-land, whatever – let me just say, building that location out of common household objects can be an extremely fun and enriching project for parents and kids to work on together. Our homemade Hogwarts greatly amplified my daughter’s already profound affection for Harry Potter and, as we built out the model further, you could see her brain firing on all cylinders, awash in a glow of plans and memories drawn straight out of her deepest reservoirs of reading retention details.
I can’t recommend a project like this enough for parents looking to spend some quality creative time with their kids. It was one of the most engaged afternoons I’ve ever spent with my daughter, even with her elevated temperature. And, as we continue reading the Harry Potter series, I can’t wait to add more and more new additions – Hogsmeade, the Room of Requirement, the Shrieking Shack – to our very own corrugated corner of J.K. Rowling’s literary universe.