Building dens

playing dens

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?

happily shared with We Play and Tot Tuesday and Monkeying Around and ABCand123


  1. says

    My boys are also Den builders and i think one of their dens might have been posted to your play acadamy last week!
    Its great to see children using their imaginations and creating something on such a large scale. At the moment ours tend to be hotels and the till gets brought out and the homecorner becomes the hotel kitchen!
    Thanks for the post! great read!

  2. says

    I used to build dens with my siblings when we were kids. We built huge ones using bed sheets. And then we took in the desklamps to get some light and our mum was so angry about it :) Now I understand why but at this time we were very upset.

    My daughter likes to build a den under the dining table and play with her teddies there.

  3. says

    My son LOVES to build dens/houses/forts/etc. What a great post! I think I’ll get some materials out for him to use today, if he wants… which I’m sure he will. :)

  4. says

    Oh dens we love these usually using the table to hang sheets etc off of. Its great fun to play with torches under or poke your head out and watch a movie with popcorn! Thank you for linking up
    Adele x x

  5. says

    I love all these different den ideas! The lean-to outside is really great and I also like the couch ones. We haven’t done this in a long time and it’s a great idea for these cold wintry days.

    ….visiting from over at ABC/123.

  6. says

    We love making dens ! Although they seem to take an hour for me to build and 5 minutes for my beasties to destroy ! I’m always on the lookout for more den building tips ! Will try the boxes idea !

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