Play in nature: making dens
Building a den can be a fun holiday activity for kids of all ages (and adults, too).
Building a den in a forest is exciting and gives kids the opportunity to develop their teamwork and troubleshooting skills too. Learning how to work effectively together and to problem-solve, in order to build something tangible, can also lead to a sense of pride. And of course, you can play in it afterwards!
Find campsites near forests in France here. Then read on, to learn how to build the best den on your camping holiday.
Learning how to build a den in the forest
Den-building requires planning, creativity, and a little hard work to create a great structure. The best dens are created on flat ground out of the way of footpaths, so that the structure is as secure as possible and you won’t get in anyone’s way while you’re building. You should be careful that you don’t harm nature while building your den, which includes trees or the plants that live around them.
Follow the instructions below to create one of the two most popular types of den.
Assemble all the materials
To create a den, you’ll need long straight branches, lots of long bendy sticks, and things to cover the den, such as twigs and leaves.
Tee-pee branch dens
To make a tee-pee den, look for a tree that has a fork shape in the branches which is low enough for you to reach. Next, put the longest sticks into the fork and fan them out to create a circular frame for your tee-pee den. Make sure they’re secure – you don’t want them to slip. Then you can weave your bendy sticks around the frame to create walls. Finally, cover the den with twigs and leaves to create more coverage on the outside.
Tent-shaped branch dens
To make a tent-shaped den, first look for two trees close together that have forks in them and place a long stick in between the forks. Add sticks to each side by leaning them against the long stick at the top – you should have a tent or triangle shape. Next, weave bendy sticks in and out of the upright sticks to create walls. Finally, you can add twigs and leaves to the outside of the den to seal the walls a little bit.
How to build a mini den with small kids
Mini dens are a nice way for small children to get involved in the building at a scale that feels comfortable for them. By collecting lots of sticks you can create a small den that is ideal for toys and teddy bears. Prop the sticks up against a tree trunk in a tee-pee shape and add a selection of leaves to the base to make a carpet.
Building a den using a sheet
Creating a den with a sheet is a much quicker job than using branches and leaves to create walls. Sheet dens work best in a tent shape. Simply create a tent structure with a long branch resting in the forks of two trees then drape the sheet over the top (it works best if you can find a double sheet).
Building a den with a tarpaulin and rope
If you have a piece of rope or paracord, you can create an easy den that will stand up to light rain and showers. To do this, tie the rope or cord around two close-together trees. You could use bungee cord to secure the line to the tree. Next, hang the tarp over the cord and peg it down if you have spare tent pegs. Then you can add a base to the den, with flattened cardboard boxes or a blanket, to make it comfy to sit down.
Building a den with cardboard boxes
Cardboard boxes are lightweight and easy to carry, making them ideal for small dens. They’re also useful if you’re staying at a campsite without any suitable trees nearby and handy to stick under everything in the boot of the car. Arrange your boxes two or three high in two rows then use branches or a sheet over the top to create a roof. If you have lots of boxes, you could arrange them in a circle or large square to create a small fort.
Building a den with furniture
Never fear if your campsite doesn’t have woodland area in or near it – garden furniture can be ideal for creating a den structure. It’s best to use four or six garden chairs if you can. Then you can arrange your garden chairs back-to-back with a gap in the middle to sit down. Finally, drape a sheet or tarpaulin over the chairs to create a simple and easy den.
Benefits of making a den
There are lots of benefits to den-building and kids can enjoy den-building all year round. Being out in nature building a new structure can be exciting, plus the activity comes with extra perks.
Dens encourage children to spend time outside in all seasons. Spending time outside helps kids get exercise as they are moving around. They’re also getting lots of fresh air and seeing new sights, such as birds and insects. This can help them to appreciate nature and can create an interest in the natural world.
Developing teamwork skills
Dens help children work together to make a collective creation. This develops teamwork skills which are essential for life. It can be fun to play with siblings or friends but discussions and disagreements are also important for development too.
Making a den encourages kids to think creatively and problem-solve, if their construction doesn’t go to plan. Using their imagination is important for kids and being left to amuse themselves can mean that they get to develop creativity skills.
Learning how to make a den outside can increase kids’ sense of independence as they create and use a space away from parents and caregivers. Kids can take on the task of working on their den alone, accepting help and advice from adults only when needed.
Creating imaginary fun
Dens can act as a base for games. These can include games that involve the imagination, such as creating an imaginary shop where they can be the shopkeeper. Or these could be team games like capture the flag, which requires a base or hideout as part of the game.
Learn how to make a den the best it can be, no matter where you’re building
Learn the answers to the most common den-building questions so you’re clued up before you start to create a structure.
What is the best location for a den?
Dens are best created on grassy ground where there are lots of trees nearby. The trees can act as a support for the main parts of the den and they can provide the sticks and twigs that make the edges of the den. If the only locations nearby are parks or fields, it’s useful to plan in advance to have other materials, such as boxes or chairs, for the walls of the den.
What do you need for a den?
For most dens, you’ll need lots of long strong branches and long bendy sticks. However, if your campsite is far away from trees, you can use chairs or cardboard boxes and a blanket or sheet to make your den. No matter what your den is made from, you’ll have lots of fun spending time outdoors in a cosy shelter.
How do you make the best den?
The best dens are made by finding the perfect location and then planning the design. You can make a den by going straight in and seeing what you come up with, but dens are better and stronger when everyone knows what they’re doing in advance.
How do you make a den out of a blanket?
To make a den out of a blanket you can use the same steps for dens made out of sheets. Blankets can be draped across camping chairs to make small dens. You can use a blanket as a roof or top sheet over a long branch suspended by the forks in two trees. It’s helpful to place something heavy like rocks on the side of the blanket so it doesn’t fly away in strong winds.
What can you do in a den?
One of the best ways to use a den is as a hiding place with toys or friends. You can hang out in a den reading books or playing with toys. If you’re playing a game like capture the flag or tag, dens make wonderful bases. A den can also be an imaginative space for playing in, such as a rabbit’s burrow, a cave, or a shop.
Book your next family trip and enjoy den-building in nature!