When did your children last build a den? I’m pretty sure my two build one at least once a week. When B had transformed our sofa into one at the weekend she told me to take a photo and put it on our blog, so this is B’s play recommendation to your children this week: build a den.
I suspect it’s instinctive in us to want to build a shelter and that’s perhaps what first starts children on a den building mission. I think my two love dens so much because they can create a secure and cosy little world in which they are the boss. They will sometimes call their den a house, a cave, a tent, a castle but I’ve noticed they always like to be surrounded by walls and a roof. Most often they’ll build one which is just the right size for them to squeeze into, certainly they’re always too small for a grown-up to fit in. I wonder if they intend this?
I don’t think children particularly need to be shown how to play dens – with all the children I’ve worked with they seem to occur naturally- but I do always ensure there are materials available the children can use, to facilitate this kind of play. It’s a very good type of play for mixed age groups and I’ve found that even toddlers enjoy having a den.
Dens open up a world of imaginary play for children and there’s a lot of creativity, design, problem solving and construction skills being developed as they play. If you’re inspired to build one this week, here are our ideas (with lots of suggestions from B) on what makes a great den.
Space – Children can build a den anywhere: inside, outside, under the kitchen table, on the sofa, on their bed, in a cardboard box. I’d encourage you to let your children have some freedom to choose the location of their den, perhaps agreeing how long the construction can stay up and that they’ll help tidy it away afterwards.We’re fortunate to have a playroom with a battered old sofa, so I’m quite happy for the children to pull it apart and use it to build with, and we also have a wide landing that they like to use but we do agree that dens can’t be built on the stairs or blocking the hallway, for safety and practical reasons. (I quite often hear myself calling out ‘make a pathway!’ as they start to play.)
Materials – B’s list of great building materials includes sofa cushions, garden chair cushions, tables, dining chairs, bed sheets, big pieces of fabric, big branches and garden parasols laid on their side. She recommends scarves, string and clothes pegs to fasten things together, and knotting things around chairs, banisters and door handles. Big boxes and chairs are good for holding up a roof.
Props -The design of our playspace gives the children easy access to our resources so they can grab what they’d like to include in their play. Somethings which they often use, and which you might like to make available, include pots and pans and picnic items, torches, pillows and sleeping bags or blankets, clipboards with paper and pencils.
Books - The girls very often end up taking books into their dens and settling down to read in there. There are some picture books on the theme of ‘dens’ in our book shop. I’d love to hear your recommendations if you have any other favourite books about dens.
Are your children keen den builders?