Everyone has their own techniques when it comes to building a den – here’s how we do ours at LittleLife HQ. The trick here is layers – layers of clothes for the children, layers of imagination for you, and layers of branches, twigs, leaves and grasses for the den.
Den building is a perfect activity for children to learn about nature, and about themselves. They can build the den entirely from natural materials found on the forest floor, then shelter from the elements inside. Safety is everything with little children so here are a few tips on keeping it stable.
Pick a flat and dry patch of ground to build on. Obviously it’s a good idea to avoid building near roads, watercourses or in quarries.
Send the Little Explorers off to scavenge! It’s amazing what you can find on the forest floor without having to cut any branches down. Pine forests are great because the trees shed naturally. You’ll need several long branches and piles of shorter twigs, leaves, ferns, and grasses – it’s a brilliant sorting and team working activity.
We were lucky enough to find a huge fallen tree to use as the frame of our den. We used the longest branches to create a framework by lying them up against the top beam at an angle. The best ones had offshoots which helped pack out the walls of the den. We pushed the ends of the branches into the earth to help secure it. Give it a wobble to check nothing shakes free.
It was handy to take a ball of gardening twine to tie the twigs together, but if you have patient children you could plait bark or bend supple branches like willow or alder. We kept the den lightweight so that if there was a collapse it wouldn’t harm anyone inside!
The Little Explorers used leaves, ferns and grasses to stuff into the gaps and insulate the walls. We were careful not to rip living moss from the forest floor – it’s a habitat for animals and insects – and besides, it looks so pretty in situ. If you’ve got time, line the floor with ferns or hay and maybe accessorise with a leaf bowl or acorn jewels!
At the end of the day, it’s really important to dismantle the den and leave the woods as you found them. This is so other children don’t come along later when the den has become wobbly and potentially dangerous. Having said that, we found the bones of an ancient den in our local woods – it was fun to think about all the children who must have played in it over the years.
- A triangular den can be made by tying a horizontal beam between two trees, then laying sticks diagonally from the floor to the top beam and weaving leafy branches between the poles. You can make a tipi shape by bundling a dozen sturdy branches of the same length with twine, about 20 cm from the end, then letting the branches splay out.
Expert Explorers: Here’s a challenge for you – set up a competition with friends to see if you can build a den in under 45 minutes. Will you stay dry inside it if someone pours a bucket of water over the roof?