DENS’, is there anything better when you’re a kid? That small cosy space that is all yours and what’s better you made it yourself, maybe alone, maybe with friends, maybe as a family. It’s the cave you hide your pirate treasure in, the tent you camp in while exploring the jungle, the cosy nook you made to read in by the radiator on a cold winter’s day. Dens’ can be a great place to explore, build and image for children, they can be a space that’s only for kids but they can also be a space that can provide family fun too. So, sit back grab a cup of tea and let’s explore some children’s indoor den ideas.
Let’s face it, often children build dens themselves and there’s nothing wrong with that. Building dens can help develop teamworking skills as well as providing entertainment and a secret hide away from parents. It’s fun. Sometimes it’s even helpful for the grow- ups, the children are happy safely building and playing in their blanket fort while you do the chores and pay the bills, but sometimes we grown-ups can do much more than provide the blankets for a den, we can take part in the adventure!
This is your guide to dens, yes, I’m sure you’ve built them before but here’s a refresher course. Lets’ start with the types of den you can build. Are there types I hear you say? Oh yes, there are. First off, I’m talking about indoor den types here. Now don’t get me wrong I’m all for children and adults going Ray Mears and building outdoor play spaces in the garden or in the local woods, but sometimes outdoors isn’t an option. Some people don’t have the outdoor space, maybe it’s cold, wet and blowing a gale outside, whatever the reason sometimes outdoors is a no go and then it’s time to read up on children’s indoor dens ideas, turn off the TV and have some quality family time with very little expense. Which brings me back to the types, transient dens, camp tents and permanent dens.
First up transient dens. These are by far the simplest and cheapest dens to build. We’ve all done them, you grab a few blankets or sheets and use them to cover a table, drape them between the sideboard and the couch or throw them over a string tied to two dining chairs and voila a den. I remember the very first den I ever had; it was just this sort and I didn’t build it. It was way back in the 80’s and my parents were decorating, they put the dining table right up against the massive 1970’s wall unit and covered the lot with sheets right down to the floor. I realised very quickly I could hide under the table and have my very own den! I moved cushions and rugs, books and toys under the table and spent a fabulous week having a great time in there while my parents were just thankful I hadn’t ‘helped’ decorate (my mother was slightly less enthusiastic when she realised I’d covered her nice teak sideboard in My Little Pony pictures but that’s another story).
I’ve built lots of blanket dens since then, some when I was a kid, others with my two young daughters. Unfortunately, our dining table isn’t the sort with a leg at each corner which can easily be made into a den by covering it with a sheet, but it was the impetus for our very first blanket den build. I saw them trying to sit under the table with their toys and heard my eldest call her sister over to ‘come in the tent’. They moved all the chairs out of the way but still had no room at all. I looked around and realised there was no where I could simply stretch a blanket from the chair arm to the back of a sofa or something either. In fact, all the things me and my cousin had used as a frame for our dens weren’t available for my girls. Nope, in our house we needed to build. I decided I needed to help show my girls how they could build a den and in doing so, in helping them, teaching them, I became involved in their fun. We borrowed dining room chairs and a broom, balancing the handle on the back of the chairs, we covered everything with throws and rugs that the girls found from around the house. They then covered the ‘floor’ of their den with more blankets, dragged in their bean bags and set themselves up for the day with every toy they could cram in there. Once we built that first den it became a regular thing. They’ll ask to build one and we’ll gather our stuff. Once construction is complete, we usually have our lunch in it together picnic style, read books and sometimes play games like eye-spy. They’ve turned it into a shop, a tent and an animal hide sometimes. I am often invited in for these games which is a great way to do imaginative play, you can also add learning elements, counting money in the shop, looking at wildlife books in the hide and so on. Then, just before tea time the whole thing is packed up, or if it’s Friday movie night maybe we’ll all have pizza in it and watch our film sat on the bean bags and cushions.
Boxes are another good thing to make dens out of. Very large boxes can be turned into anything by kids. Boats, forts, planes the only limit is imagination, my cousin and I even turned one into a submarine once with a toilet roll telescope, but den building with them is a little trickier. After all dens are by nature a carved out, enclosed space you can play in and a simple box usually just isn’t that big. There’s at least two ways I can see to turn boxes into dens, one I’ve tried already when I helped my kids cut a few boxes into a castle shape and stick it together with strong duct tape. They spent a long time decorating it with pens and paint before playing in it for a while (I was the giant), but like all cardboard it was eventually wrecked and sent to the recycling. If you have lots of small boxes you could use them like blocks and make a structure that way, or mix and match box walls with chair and sheet roofs, I imagine they would make a fantastic igloo, just make sure you have something strong enough to take the weight of a sheet or the den will collapse!
I’ve seen some pre made carboard dens that are ready to colour in but for me these miss the point and cut out some of the creative fun. That’s the whole point really, to build, explore and imagine. I’ve seen some amazing blanket dens created, some in bedrooms over cot beds, others as I’ve described but with fairy lights and matching throws. In reality though the kids are just happy to have built something themselves, that has given them their own hidey hole. Don’t worry too much about blanket dens collapsing either, if the blanket sags and falls off, readjust it and try again, failure is part of the fun, it’s like Lego bricks, you learn as you build.
My girls loved the blanket den so much I took den building up a notch though to den type two in our children’s indoor den ideas, the tent. Back in the summer the girls had a little pop up tent. The problem I had with it was its flimsiness. It just couldn’t handle a rambunctious two-year-old throwing herself on it, the whole thing would just roll with her, which she thought was great and I thought was an accident waiting to happen. Moreover, the pop-up tent might ‘pop’ up but was a pain to try and fold back in the bag. So, I decided to hit the internet and find them a better one. I didn’t. I bought them a tent. Yep you read that right a tent. It wasn’t much more money than the pop up one and was much sturdier, it was also much easier to take down (at least for someone who goes camping). I did toy with one that looked like a knights’ jousting tent but with two of them in it I didn’t think they’d have much room for long. The beauty of the tent I did buy was it fitted, all be it snuggly, into the living room. Now I had a play space that could be used outside for shade, play and garden camping in the summer, but also for an indoor den and camp ins when it was colder. I’m going to come back to that in a bit.
First though I’m going to round off my den types with my third and final type – the permanent den. We have one of these in our living room but you’d probably never notice it at first. While flicking through the internet one day I saw a Pinterest post by someone who had turned under their stairs into a Harry Potter den. Now my kids are too young for Harry yet, but it gave me an idea. The area under our stairs had what can only be described as a door fit for a hobbit, the space behind it was carpeted but completely redundant. A lightbulb went off.
Grabbing a screwdriver, I whipped off the door, got the kids and headed off to the local DIY store. They chose some paint, we got some shelves, bulkhead battery operated touch lights and a small coat hook. Back home we (well I) cleaned the whole space, painted it and by the time Daddy came home the girls had their own little den right there in the living room. There is plenty of head hight for them, shelves for their toys, hooks for their bags and the touch lights are very easy for them to use. Having no door, I can supervise them easily and be part of their games while they still have a space that is just for them. It’s also great for storing toys away tidily. Mostly this is there area, I’m not always invited in because I don’t fit. They use it as their ‘house’, so much so it is now where they keep all their wooden food, pans and plates. This type of den can be long lasting too if the entire space under the stairs is available and not just a small section like I have. The original Harry Potter den that inspired my DIY would make a fantastic reading nook for older children, especially ones with siblings when rooms are shared. After all everyone needs their own space and quiet times occasionally. With adequate lighting, book shelves and bean bags a completely redundant part of the home can become a den for pre or young teens.
Bedrooms can also be a great space for dens especially for older children. Kids with cabin beds might easily build a den under the bed given enough space and a blanket. I did this when I had a cabin bed, stretching a sheet from my bed to my windowsill and sitting by my radiator on chilly days to read books. Bunkbeds can make a good den too and moreover adding curtains that can be closed to make the bottom bunk into a den can not only provide a play space for kids, but also make the bottom bunk more appealing for a sibling, after all doesn’t everyone really want the top bunk? I’m seriously considering something like this when my two are older to stop arguments over who has the better space.
Now as I’ve said before dens can be a very cost-effective play space, but they can also provide a theme for a much bigger source of family fun too, you see in this article on children’s indoor den ideas I want to do more than tell you how to build a den, I want to explore some of the fun you can have with them as a family. Take for example the camp in. Now I love camping, its fantastic fun for all the family, but sometimes camping out isn’t an option, even in the garden. Maybe the weather is bad, the kids are very small and have never done it before, or maybe you just don’t like the idea of camping. Whatever it is the camp IN could be the answer.
We’ve set up the tent in the living room as I’ve mentioned before, but you really don’t have to use a tent, a blanket den would be just as much fun. The point is to get the whole family together for the feel of a camping trip in the safety of home. I tried this with my pre-schoolers, we made a whole thing of it as a family. I had them build a fake fire, decorate the mantel piece (which is wooden) with painted green leaves (handprints work well) and colour in a totem pole we drew on old lining paper (quick tip for parents here, lining paper is a cheap alternative to paper on the roll for artwork and is MUCH thicker for kids who use way too much paint etc).
Once Daddy was home from work, we locked the doors, made sausage sandwiches and smores (all be it English ones, we don’t seem to have Graham Crackers here so I used digestives) told stories around the fake camp fire and sang songs together. Finally, everyone squeezed into the tent and snuggled into their sleeping bags for a night of camping. You don’t need sleeping bags of course, blankets are just fine, after all this is your house it’s not going to be freezing! In our case the girls slept together on air-mats in the tent with the door open and we adults slept just outside on an air bed. We only used the main lights when we did teeth cleaning at bed time, the while rest of the night we used battery lamps and Daddy’s headtorch for an ‘authentic’ camp experience. The girls loved it and surprisingly everyone slept really well.
The idea of the camp in can expand and grow too with the children. Older kids will love to camp out in the living room alone with siblings or friends while the grown-ups get to retire upstairs to their beds. That doesn’t mean however that the parents are totally excluded from the fun, it’s still possible to be involved in the camp creation and atmosphere, making the camp food and eating the marshmallow goodness, it’s just important that the kids get more time to themselves too.
HOW I MADE A FAKE FIRE.
To make the fake fire we did you will need:
- 1 egg box
- 3 or more battery tea lights
- Orange and yellow tissue paper
- Old paper packing material
- Cardboard tubes (such as kitchen rolls)
Cut the top off the egg carton and discard. Place a small square piece of yellow tissue paper (approx. 5”) on top of an equal sized orange one. Place the tee light in the centre. Gather the tissue and gently twist at the top. Take the packing paper and scrunch into balls. When ready to use light the tea lights (this is easily done through the tissue paper) and place into the holes of the egg carton. Place cardboard tubes around the egg box and the paper ‘stones’ around that. Turn out the lights and enjoy. For added effect we filled the bottom of the egg box with scrunched up cellophane wrappers in yellow, red and orange we’ saved from the Christmas Quality Street!
While the camp in was both a great success and fantastic fun it is by no means the only theme den experience the family can have. Think imaginatively and the den can become anything. At Halloween a few dark sheets, or a sheet over the tent can make a cave or haunted house. I think this might be one we’ll do next Halloween if there are no parties the kids want to go to. We can trick or treat and then retire to the warm house for a spooky Scooby doo movie and a camp out in our Halloween decoration bedecked den. That addition of blankets and structure around your sleeping bags just somehow seems safer than just being in the open living room and I’m sure even slightly older children who are venturing into somewhat scary movie territory might feel more secure in ‘the den’. In winter the blanket or tent den can become an igloo when there’s no snow to build with, or too much. The permanent den, as ours did, can be transformed into a gingerbread house with a few bits of cardboard, some pens and a little imagination. Yes, the possibilities are limitless. More importantly you as a parent can be involved as much or as little as you want. We as parents must remember that while we are the protectors, the enforcers of health and safety, the persuaders of eating green veggies and the teachers of right and wrong, we can also be the bringers of fun, the fuel of imagination and creation, we can play. We can take part in our children’s games, point them in the direction of new ideas and enjoy ourselves as they would. Myself and my husband loved camping in our living room with the kids, we loved seeing how excited they got and teaching them what it’s like, all be it in the safety of home. So, go, get blankets, grab some string and chairs, gather your small minions and build a den, have a picnic, sleep in a tent in the living room, whatever you want to do, just have fun