Yesterday was one of those afternoons where all three decided to be in the house, but they couldn’t settle to play without getting at each other. I had some baking to do for visitors the next day, but once that was cracked, I chivied them into their outdoor gear, packed up some supplies, and we headed into the woods over the road. I declared an afternoon of den building was required! We’ve done this many times before, but not recently, and not since we’ve moved to Sweden. So, with the sun and rain alternating, and to the backdrop of birdsong and woodpeckers hammering (we have a lot of woodpeckers in our woods!), my trio set about their challenge. I deliberately stayed out of it. This was something for them to be creative and work together, not for a grown up to intervene with their ideas and commands.
I have written about the benefits of outdoor play a lot before ( http://mammasschool.co.uk/parenting/outdoor-play-children-natures-sanity/ ), so why did I specifically take them out to build to a den? Dens can be built both indoors and outdoors, but I needed to get them out the house, and life works a lot better outdoors for us. Building a den challenges the little person both mentally and physically. They are using their imagination and creative thinking to come up with a place that will stay standing, and provide a little bit of shelter. Dens also provide a sense of self. An adult might ruin this experience with their ideas of making it look nice and being functional, whereas the child is more interested in its purpose. They are coming at den building from a completely different angle. The children are problem solving as they try and make their construction stand up and stay up! They are getting a great physical workout, but having a huge amount of fun in the process. The main reason I sent my trio out there was for the benefit of team work. It was to get them working together and enjoying each other’s company, with the sense of achievement at the end, that comes from succeeding at something together. Ultimately, once the den is done, comes the fantastic thing that is role play. The den turns into a fort, or a secret hiding place, or in our case yesterday, a house for playing out whatever scenario took their fancy.
As usual our little lady took command of the project, but I was careful to mention quietly to her to try and use listening ears with the mini men. They have ideas too, and then I left them to it, to work at their team building and negotiating skills between them, and hopefully produce a den whilst having fun at the same time! She marched them off deeper into the woods (we had stopped by a fire pit so we had a central location for them to return to), to select their site. They then went off in search of supplies. She was very lucky, and managed to find a huge sheet of plastic tarpaulin! Whilst they set about their construction I busied myself making a Kelly Kettle fire for hot drinks, and a little fire for marshmallow toasting, as den building works up an incredible appetite…especially if your are 9, and in the past few days have developed hollow legs!
After a bit of sustenance I headed back into the den location with them, to see what they had excitedly been chatting about over the camp fire. They had made a fantastic den, but they had also located a rope swing, and some excellent climbing trees. I watched them play and enjoyed listening to them, before the rain started. Whilst we don’t head indoors when it rains (that is a whole other story to tell about how rain is fun!), I did think it was a chance to get cosy inside the den with a new story book I had brought out with me in the backpack (all three of mine love stories). So we crawled in and read our book. Our little lady started it off, and then I took over so she could enjoy being read to as well, which is important that I remember the fact that although she loves reading, she loves listening too.
They had a great afternoon, and were in a much better mood when we returned home, cooperating better together 🙂 With children playing out less, having less unstructured play time, and more scheduled activities, den building (both indoors and out) is in real danger of disappearing from their play, but is vitally necessary for their development. Go on….get them out there today (or challenge them to build one indoors if you really can’t face going out!), and sit back and wait to reap the benefits of their play session. Then maybe you could facilitate a feast for them in their hideout too. Honestly, you will have a few hours of peace, it’s worth it for parents too. If going outdoors, take a book to enjoy. If at home, just enjoy the calm to get some of your own down time 🙂