With the majority of us spending more time than we ever thought possible in the company of our nearest and dearest, space is at a premium. Especially as we balance homeschooling with working from home, it is a luxury to have a space we can call our own. 

When lockdown started, our priorities started to shift. Suddenly our six year old daughter was home all the time, vying for homeschool space in a house that already makes room for two creative businesses. Like a lot of kids she was unsettled that the usual routine of school/clubs/weekend was no longer in place, I saw my Bear grasping for ‘normal’. She wanted to wear her school uniform and became intent that we would follow the class timetable. My friend, she even tried to sack her teacher because she “wasn’t very good at teaching”…sorry about that kid.

With an already fully allocated house, she felt as though she was being slotted in here and there. The screen became her solace, the garden a boring void, not a patch on the school playground or the park. 

Then one day, whilst taking a walk, we spotted it…the perfect starting block for a den. A pallet of generous proportions with an A frame support. Literally, all I could see was POTENTIAL. 

We all know about Man Caves and She Sheds – the oases of calm to think, create and drink in. Now, it’s time to make way for the newest garden necessity – the homemade den. It’s time to make space for childhood.

For about as long as kids have been kids, the den has been a staple of childhood. Who hasn’t spent a happy afternoon building a cushion fort? They can be the simplest of structures: a sheet and a washing line, even just a really big cardboard box.

With our newly dragged home pallet, we had something sturdy and easy to work with (possibly because we are a bunch of crafty hoarders!). Within two hours (including a dinner break) the den was created. Everything was sourced from the loft (a 30 year old tent with a hilarious history meaning it couldn’t be dumped), or the cellar: an offcut of carpet and a camping mat, and a tiny little tarp. A shimmy of magic and some big ol’ staples created a whole new world- admittedly one of only 1.2 square metres and a low head height.

The transformation I’ve seen in my child has been fascinating. She is happy to play out there day in, day out (yes there is still screen time, of course there is), because it feels like it’s hers and hers alone – although she is very keen for the cat to move in there with her! 

Whether you have a garden den or make one in the corner of a room, here are five things I’ve learnt about having a garden den: 

1) Dens help kids feel safe. With younger children you can reinforce that this is a cosy, snuggly space where they can play or rest when it feels overwhelming. With older kids, let them build it with far less parental input and allow it to be their hangout. 

 

2) It’s empowering.. Because it’s their space, it gives your kid a sense of autonomy. When there’s very little else they can control about the staying home situation, a den gives them the opportunity to rule their domain.

 

3) Put your child in charge and allow them to create from their heart and imagination. You may be amazed by what is important to them in terms of build criteria!

 

4) A den can undergo a transformation every single day – from a magical lair, to a spy centre, a school for witches or a teddy bear’s hospital. The possibilities are endless. By paying attention to the stories your child creates in their den, you get an insight into how they feel about the world and what their struggles are.

5) If you child is settled and happy, they are less likely to be asking you to keep them entertained. My kid found a level of independence in her den, it’s her space (at times it’s strictly no parents!) this gives me more head space to work – plus you know exactly where they are.

 

Ultimately a den will provide your offspring with a place to explore, pretend and hang out, and in times like these, it doesn’t get more rewarding than that. (please don’t blame me when they try and camp out overnight!)

**Foot note**

If you’re anything like me you’re thinking “So, what does it look like to drag a pallet off the street and fling the contents of your camp store at it?” Well, here’s a few pics of the process – and yes, it is great what you can achieve with a whacking big stapler.

When I saw the pallet I was utterly convinced that I could make something cool and QUICK…it was BUT… we kept having to remind ourselves not to over think it, not to over design it and not try to build something that was going to be a garden fixture for evverrrrrr….

Seriously, there was a moment when I heard myself say “I can imagine Bear stomping out here in her teens for a good sulk” and had to reel myself in! This is a den, old school style – not built for the pages of Elle Decor, built to withstand play, provide shelter and get stuffed to the gills with pretty much anything that can be dragged out of the house (I had to gently put my foot down when the sofa cushions started appearing out there!)