Den building is a great way for children to develop their personal, social and emotional development. It tests their turn taking skills, builds their confidence and gives them opportunities to compromise and problem solve. There are many other areas of learning which are developed through den building including communication skills, physical development, maths development and expressive art and design; it’s a brilliant outdoor activity which covers many learning outcomes and has a huge appeal to boys.
Den building can be as elaborate or as simple as needs be, younger children will enjoy using large pegs to hold tarpaulin or camouflage nets up, whereas older children will use a variety of materials. I have seen one den built, using a couple of pegs and tarpaulin, turn into a hotel over the course of a week as areas were partitioned and crates were used as furniture; as I said they can be as elaborate as you want.
As well as considering the age and stage of development when choosing den building materials it’s good to consider the weather. If you choose materials that can be left outside the den building process can become a month long project whereas if you use blankets you will need to make a new den each day, which is equally as fun but sometimes stunts the growth of the activity.
Finding appropriate opportunities to encourage conflict resolution and problem solving as well as turn taking and team work is key to the adult’s role during den building. It is about aiding the issues rather than making the decisions and therefore the adult should act as a mediator for the children. Sometimes all the children need is someone to explain feelings and appropriate behaviour, it can be quite amazing how much they understand and how they then make appropriate decisions for themselves.
When the children come up against a problem try the steps below to help them resolve it appropriately.
- What is the problem? Encourage the children to explain the problem clearly and give each child the chance to speak.
- What are you going to do? Give the children time to think about how they could resolve issues without adult input.
- How will your friend feel if you do that? If a child suggests something unfair give them an opportunity to understand it and encourage them to think of an outcome which is fair for all involved.
- Is that okay with everyone? By this point there should be a resolution to the problem and it’s a chance to reiterate what’s been decided.
The more you encourage children to follow these steps, the less input they will need from adults; eventually you will see it filter through into all aspects of their day.
Early learning goals
ELG 03 Speaking: Children express themselves effectively, showing awareness of listeners’ needs.
ELG 04 Moving and Handling: Children show good control and coordination in large and small movements.
ELG 06 Self-Confidence and Self-Awareness: They are confident to speak in a familiar group, will talk about their ideas, and will choose the resources they need for their chosen activities. They say when they do or don’t need help.
ELG 07 Managing Feelings and Behaviour: Children talk about how they and others show feelings, talk about their own and others’ behaviour, and its consequences, and know that some behaviour is unacceptable. They work as part of a group or class.
ELG 08 Making Relationships: Children play cooperatively, taking turns with others. They take account of one another’s ideas about how to organise their activity.
ELG 11 Numbers: They solve problems, including doubling, halving and sharing.
ELG 12 Shape, Space and Measures: Children use everyday language to talk about size, weight, capacity, position to compare quantities and objects and to solve problems.
ELG 17 Being Imaginative: Children use what they have learnt about media and materials in original ways, thinking about uses and purposes.
Our Top 10 Den Building Resources
- Fixing clips
- Giant pegs
- Bamboo canes
- Camoflage den making kits
- Hula hoops
- Coloured fabrics
Have you tried den building with your children? Do you have any further ideas to add?
This post was written by Laura England of Little Miss Early Years
Laura is the lead practitioner at Blythe Bridge Day Nursery, she is currently a trainee early years’ teacher and has a monthly column in Teach Early Years Magazine. She is interested in everything early years but is passionate about teaching through the children’s interests, setting up enabling environments and the adults role during play.