Top 5 Tips for Den Building With Your Children

Den building is a fantastic activity to enjoy with your children. It’s easy to do anywhere and it will keep them busy for hours - especially over the school holidays! And while it’s a lot more fun than homework, den building actually  helps to equip children with important life skills too. Primary schools and nurseries regularly set up den building activities because of the many developmental benefits they carry. But it’s just as easy to do at home!

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1       Enjoying Outdoor Exercise

Den building is all about spending quality time together outdoors. This usually involves getting a bit messy, being physical and burning off energy! Running around collecting different materials to build and furnish their den, lifting, carrying, pushing and rolling things into place, enjoying some active role play while they are at it, is great exercise and ideal for physical development.

The wonderful thing about building a den outside is taking advantage of the fresh air. Whether in your backyard, garden, a local park or woodland area, den building is a great way of exploring the natural environment. If they come inside at the end of the day with pink cheeks and muddy hands then it’s a job well done!

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2       Fuelling Their Imaginations

Children love to explore their creative side, and a den can really be whatever they want it to be! Let them create their own structure, using whatever materials you can offer them to support their creative thinking and spark their imagination. Encourage them to solve problems logically themselves in order to build their den successfully.

Thinking creatively and being allowed to put their own ideas into reality is so rewarding for children, and really boosts their self confidence. Of course we’re not saying leave them to it entirely, as they may need your help and will enjoy spending the time playing with you. But if it gives you a little bit of time to sit and watch with a cup of tea then it’s a win-win situation!

Once their den is built, it’s the perfect place to enjoy role play. Children develop an understanding of the world we live in, and learn empathy, through imaginative play. They might act out familiar people or characters from their favourite stories, past events or imaginary scenarios. Their den could be a shop, hospital, restaurant or dragon’s den - anything goes! Encourage this. It allows children to test boundaries and experiment with their behaviour and feelings in a safe environment, knowing they won’t get in trouble - it’s all part of the fun!

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3       Talking and Listening

Building a den together is a great informal way of engaging a child in conversation - helping to develop their ability to communicate, listen and take turns in conversation, express themselves and put their thoughts into words. And if a few children are building a den together then they will be learning how to negotiate positively with each other too - teamwork makes the dream work!

It’s not just about the hows and whys of building. It’s a lovely opportunity for a parent or carer to have a good chat with their child about anything that might be on their mind, in a no-pressure environment. This is really important for their emotional development and relationships. And once the den has been built, it’s exciting for them to play inside with someone special. Children will love reinforcing relationships with friends and family through playing, reading and story-telling in their den.

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4       Building Independence

A den is like a “home away from home” that is secret and special to a child. Hiding in it is adventurous! It gives children a taste of privacy and independence away from adults and their “normal” home environment.

It’s a seemingly small but nonetheless significant step towards children developing the confidence to challenge themselves, both physically and mentally, in preparation for growing into independent young people.

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5       Getting Started

You don’t need much to get started - normal household items can make brilliant dens! Here are some suggestions:

  • Cardboard boxes - Children can get creative stacking and styling them to make a den.
  • Garden canes, branches and twigs - Build wigwams with branches or garden canes tied at the top with string.
  • Hula hoops - Tie three pieces of string to a hula hoop at equal intervals. Tie the three ends together and hang from a branch or washing line. Drape a cover over to create an interestingly shaped moving den.
  • Garden furniture - Use your garden furniture, playhouse or play frame if you have one - put them together and cover with a blanket to create a den underneath.
  • Covers - Blankets, sheets, old towels, camouflage netting, all make ideal covers. A waterproof blanket or tarpaulin on the floor creates a dry area to sit down. Cushions or bean-bags make it extra comfy.
  • Fixers - Let children use string, sellotape, ribbons or clothes pegs to hold things in place and secure covers.
  • Decorations - Let children personalise their den by decorating it as they wish with paints, crayons, chalk, ribbon, leaves, flowers etc.

Most of all - we hope you have fun!

 This post has been written by Pentagon Play who have been designing outdoor learning environments for schools since 1998. Find out more about the importance of outdoor play and education on their website.