Do you remember the first den you built as a child?
I remember building dens all the time – indoors and out. I think I always had one on the go. But my two favourites – or those that seem to stick in my memory – were in our broom cupboard under the stairs when I was around six years old, and in a hollowed-out bush when I was around ten or eleven.
In the first, I made “bunk beds” out of the shelves in there with my sisters, a comfy floor using the cushions from the sofa, and then a sort of extension using an old sheet hung over some chairs. Then we spent hours imagining it was wartime, and this was our air raid shelter.
The bush camp (as we called it) was when I was a bit older. It became a place for my friends and I to meet and have secret discussions during the lunch break between lessons. I think this was very much a female sort of den – we just enjoyed having somewhere to gossip and play with each other’s hair!
What do children get out of den-building?
The main benefit children get out of den-building is that feeling of having your own private space, away from adults. This cannot be underestimated. As adults, we are used to having our own time and spaces to just be ourselves – our houses, our cars, out on a walk on our own, sitting out in the garden or lying in the bath. Athough, in many ways, childhood is freedom – from responsibility, financial worries and other adult concerns; when you are a child, you are still quite restricted as to where you exercise that freedom. You are almost always within the gaze of an adult, spending time in an adult-ruled space. Really the only space you have any ownership of is your bedroom – but even that is in your parents’ house – a space created by adults. Having a den means a child can experience what it is like to just be themselves, without being watched, judged, told what to do, given instructions or expected to perform. They can finally play at being an adult without rules, advice and restriction.
Then there’s the process of den-building. There is something deeply human about using the resources you have to hand to make an effective shelter. This is one of the skills that has helped humans to survive as a species. And so it makes perfect sense that children play at den-building. It is – at it’s heart – a vital survival skill.
From a teacher’s perspective, there is so much potential for learning in den-building. The process of building your own little shelter involves problem-solving, co-operation skills (if you are building with friends or siblings), imaginative skills and so much more. This is why Early Years settings (nurseries and day care centres) actively encourage den-building.
If you are interested in finding out more about more elaborate den-building for older children:
I seriously cannot wait until T is old enough to start doing all of this – so much fun!
Why should I build a den for my baby?
Well, OK. A baby isn’t going to build their own den. But there’s no reason why you shouldn’t make one for them to enjoy. Babies like being in baby-sized spaces. Even at eight months, T was always trying to squeeze into the laundry basket! Now that he has learned to crawl, he enjoys trying to slide under beds, chairs and tables, anywhere he can fit really.
If you think you’d like to create a little baby den, here are a few ideas for what to use:
This list only contains items that are easy to locate around the house and quick to set up – this is the only way I can fit anything creative into my chore-filled day!
- A jungle gym with a blanket over it
- A large cardboard box
- A tent or tunnel
- A laundry basket turned on it’s side
- A very large umbrella
I have used the first on the list (see the photo above) and I am now on the hunt for a decent tent to make into a little reading den to keep downstairs. At the moment, T has his books in a box in his bedroom, but I would like to have a little reading area downstairs…and I LOVE the idea of a little reading den. I shall post as soon as I’ve done it!
- Building Dens – Tips for Parents (roomtogrow.co.uk)
- Why Finnish babies sleep in cardboard boxes (packaging-news-weekly.co.uk)
- ‘What Can You Do With a Cardboard Box..?” Lots! (bangordailynews.com)