Building dens is a rite of childhood - an instinctive urge to create a secret space owned by the maker. Whether seeking the comfort and security of a self-made sanctuary, or the thrill of accomplishment upon succeeding in a self-set challenge: den-building offers children a myriad of physical and mental learning opportunities, whilst having fun.
Dens can of course take the simplest of forms - as my sofa cushions will attest - but the best sort are built outdoors in the wild. Outside, children are offered an ever-changing landscape to challenge their problem-solving skills and ignite their senses.
Equipment. This should be carried by the child - handing over responsibility but critically ownership of what they need to build their den. Perhaps predictably, we’d suggest a den kit, complete with tarp, ground sheet, mallet, pegs and rope.
Restraint (adult). The temptation for all well-meaning adults is to help the child using their age-won experience and expertise. However, the best results come from children using their own ideas, imagination and skills. They might ask for help - try not to rush in. Ask what they think needs to be done, how they think the problem could be solved, let them try. There’s no right or wrong way - there’s no ‘failure’. There’s only learning.
Time. It’s all they really need from us. A den-building adventure is the antidote to the formal learning and prescriptive activities that make up much of the term time week. That space and one-to-one is gold-dust for your child. Chat, laugh, explore and admire their handiwork. Often, they’ll surprise you with their capability and insight.
Snacks. The only thing better than building a den is eating something delicious in it. Fact.
We’ve been making den kits for over 10 years, yet every time we watch one of our young product testers try them out, or see a tagged child’s proud ‘I built that!’ face - we feel that shot of pure joy ourselves.
So go, seek, explore - and take the child/ren in your life with you. Let them respond to the innate drive to make their own secret space, and offer them the robust tools and materials to make it really cool. They might even let you in when it rains.