Ah, the magic of afternoons spent hidden away under draped fabric walls, with dim views of chair legs, and a book on your lap, illuminated by the light of a torch. Or out in the garden, sat in an improvised tent, having pretend tea parties with cuddly toys. That was the life!
Creating an enclosed space – a den, a fort, a house – purely from everyday objects is perhaps one of the simplest, and yet engrossing activities you can teach your kids. It’s great for their imaginations, a distraction from boredom whatever the weather, and most importantly, you’ve got all the equipment you need, so it’s free!
A good starting place for any den debutant is reading picture books or stories that feature secret places with Mom or Dad. Here are a few that come to mind:
- Sally’s Secret by Shirley Hughes
- The Big Alfie Out of Doors Storybook by Shirley Hughes
- Corduroy’s Sleepover by B. G. Hennessy
- The Best Den Ever by Anne Cassidy
- Our Big Blue Sofa by Tim Hopgood
- Stig of the Dump by Clive King
- Five On a Treasure Island by Enid Blyton
- Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling
- A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket
Next, you’ll want to get your materials organized. The basics are:
- Clothes pins
But you can also use items like cardboard boxes, chairs, or things you use for doing the laundry – like laundry baskets, clothes airers, or buckets – to create different parts of your structure.
Then, pick a suitably solid large object to build your space around, like a table, sofa, chair, piano, bed, bush, or tree.
Decide whether you want a roof, and if so, think about how you are going to support it. Use lightweight fabrics for canopies as they are less likely to cave in.
Where is the door going to be? Does your child want windows? Are there going to be tunnels? Is there enough room inside? Planning and drawing the layout of a den can be an activity in itself!
Lastly, think about how you’re going to join all the different materials to the ‘anchor’ object. Will the roof stay on top of the walls? Can your child open a door or a window without the whole thing collapsing? Remember, it’s a temporary hideaway, so wobbly walls and suspect tunnels are just a chance for your child to reinvent their space.
Finishing flourishes could include:
- Paper signs to be taped to the outside
- Flags or bunting
- Soft things to sit on
- Games to play
- Books to read
- A torch if it’s dark
- A child-size feast
Now leave your child to enjoy their den, because undoubtedly it’ll be ‘No Adults Allowed’. Perhaps next time there’ll be enough room!
- Use large sofa cushions for constructing walls.
- Washing lines are great for creating canopies.
- Make tunnels with kitchen chairs lined up side by side.
- The simplest dens are tables or large bushes with a blanket draped over the top.
- A teepee can be made from 4 garden canes, tied at the top with string and spread out, then wrapped with a single sheet, secured with pegs.
- Keep a stash of old sheets for just this purpose and let your child use pens or fabric paint to decorate them.