Did you ever build yourself a secret den out of blankets and pillows as a child? How about a tree house, or a secret lair in the woods? Building a secret hiding place is great fun for kids, a great way for them to get creative and a chance to explore their surroundings. But research shows that den building also plays an important role in development- one that children today should be making the most of.
Why Dens Matter
Building forts and dens used to be a staple of imaginative play for children aged 3-12. Around this time the child is rapidly growing in independence and relishes the chance to create a “no adults allowed” space where they can play and have fun. But education researchers like Antioch University’s David Sobel believes that there’s more to it than just being a fun pastime.
Building a fort is one of the first major expressions of self a child will undertake. It’s a chance for them to express who they are - creating a space that is entirely their own and filling it with their favourite toys and their imagination. (Check our tent, kids love it.) They can also construct a fort out of blankets, furniture, garden materials or even snow. Creating and organising a fort is great mental and physical exercise for the child as they undertake problem-solving challenges, learn practical skills as they can decide what comes in and what stays outside. What's more, they can also decide who comes in and practice cooperation with the other den-inhabitants.
The fort or hiding space also represents a safe space which the child can use as a barrier against stress and fear. It is a nice place when it comes to quiet time. In this safe-zone the child can express who they really are and discover more about themselves.
An Endangered Passtime
As fun and rewarding as it is, the process of building outdoor dens in young children is unfortunately in decline. Increased access to technology is encouraging children to stay inside and safety-conscious parents can be worried about letting children out of their sight. As outdoor den-making disappears children may be losing not just a great source of fun that in a natural environment but a really important means of expression and discovery.
What Should You Do?
You can encourage den-making by introducing it at a young age - help your toddler build a little castle out of pillows and let them play inside or just let them organise and make our teepee tent nice and cosy. As your children grow up you can provide them with safe, age-appropriate tools and materials and let them experiment with making their forts bigger and more elaborate. Any child will love the chance to create a secret space to hide and play, and if we’re honest there are probably quite a few adults who would love the opportunity too!