The beauty of den making is that anyone can do it – it doesn’t require a range of specific skills, just an openness to different ways of working with children, a willingness to ‘have a go’ and the ability to see the world through the eyes of a child again.
If you think back to your own childhood, most of you will have created a den of some sort. It may have been in the living room with chairs, an old clothes horse (wooden or plastic, depending on your age!), a blanket, some cushions and a torch. If you ask any adult if they have ever built a den the answer will most likely be ‘Yes’. Many of you reading this may build dens with your own children but haven’t yet thought of transferring these skills to the classroom.
This article originally appeared in the August 2016 UKEd Magazine.
Making ‘dens’ comes naturally to children. They will use what is around them to create their own spaces, their own worlds and their own rules.
As teachers, we can transform our environment into something magical and other worldly.
By looking at our environment with a fresh perspective we can allow children to become emotionally engaged and change the way they view their surroundings. We can harness the power of ‘Found objects’ to transform learning environments into the gateway to another world.
Your resources can come from a range of sources; some can be simple everyday objects that you collect over time. You can ask your school site staff to save you large packaging, especially tubes and large cardboard pieces. You might want to approach local businesses and ask if they have items that they would save for you. A local carpet store or warehouse is a good place to source cardboard tubes.
There will be some objects that you need to purchase but many resources for den making are those which are readily available and can be collected by appealing to staff and parents. These everyday objects are referred to as ‘Found objects ‘. These could be anything which can be adapted and useful for your dens: Umbrellas – a variety of colours
- Duvet covers
- Pan scourers
- Cable ties
- Mop heads
- Bubble wrap
- Battery tea lights
- Wooden figures / artist models
- Plastic door curtains
- Sock driers!
- Sticky back plastic
- Luggage labels
Given ‘freedom with support’ children can create new worlds which are challenging but safe, exciting but controlled. There are elements of fun, risk, decision making but above all clear learning outcomes. This is a holistic, cross curricular approach where ‘no space is out of bounds.’ However, this method of working does raise questions.
- How do we, as practitioners, actually take the first steps to making our classroom an immersive experience? How do we allow pupils to suspend belief and explore their senses?
- How do we source materials? Will it cost a fortune? Will I lose control of my class? Will it be noisy? The class might be having fun but are they learning anything? How do I ensure that all of my pupils are safe when working with a range of different materials?
- How do we then measure the impact of this type of work? It’s all very well having a dynamic classroom space but how can we explore whether it is actually making a difference in terms of pupils making progress and becoming more engaged with learning?
Den Building – the positives for children
- Children learn by interacting with each other and developing social skills.
- Problem solving skills are vital – children need to work out how to fasten materials together? How do they ensure that the den is safe?
- Empathy – they need to put themselves in the shoes of a person who would use or need this space.
- Understanding of abstract concepts – the den is a representation not a replica.
- Using all of their senses – multi sensory approach, texture, lighting and sound. – Does it feel different to write a poem in the dark?
- Becoming a team leader – children now take the lead and make decisions.
- Deepen understanding and become fully immersed in their learning.
- Children are ‘hooked’ into their learning and the magic in everyday objects is revealed.
- They begin to adopt a different way of looking at the environment.
- Children are doing what comes naturally – playing, using their imagination and creating their own worlds.
The Positives – for Teachers
- Children become fully engaged and immersed in their learning.
- It allows for ‘Risk taking’ in a controlled and safe environment.
- It teaches children to be responsible for their own planning and safety.
- A different approach to your work can refresh you as a practitioner
- Den making allows for the possibility of team teaching and supporting other teachers in cross curricular activities.
- Literacy based activities are brought to life. Dens can be linked to novels as well as being places to stimulate thought and discussion.
- You have a vehicle to encourage quiet reflective thinking and empathy.
If you want more ideas then look at Den Building by Cathy Cross and Jane Hewitt