If you are of a certain age and cast your mind back to those long summer holidays when you were a child you may well have spent time building a den or fort. Dens are an amazing way of firing up your child's imagination and creative side. Don't just take our word for it, here are the thoughts of design engineer Dejan Mitrovic on how to build the world’s best den:
1. Start with a plan
Every good design project starts with a plan. Does that sound too much like hard work? It’s not really, because the planning can also be fun. Let’s rephrase it to a ‘mission’ and ‘strategy’ and it’s suddenly more exciting for everyone. Our mission is to build a great den. What does ‘den’ mean? A space with a purpose, a shelter of some sort to be used for certain activities. And what does ‘great’ mean? Structurally strong, cosy and fun. So, we need to have a strategy of how to achieve that mission! Think about its purpose, where will we build it, what materials will we use, how many people should fit and how long will we use it for. Once you’ve made a strategic plan, we can get to action...
2. Choose the location and building materials
It’s now time to figure out where is the best place to build the den and what we can build around it. Once we know that, let’s think about what building materials we can find around us: furniture: chairs, tables, sofas, beds, shelves, armchairs, doors, etc. These will be our starting point, but now we need to make walls and a roof. Do we have any blankets, bed-sheets or other fabrics? I’d recommend using lighter fabrics such as bed-sheets as they will hold better and will be easier to attach to furniture.
3. It’s all about the interior design and props
We’ve completed our structure, or let’s call it our ‘architecture’, now we need to equip and decorate it inside, so it’s cosy, pleasant and functional. Lighting is a key thing for any interior, and same applies to children’s dens and forts! Bring a torch to illuminate the scene and make it more like a camping adventure. Other perfect props for dens include: rugs, mats and carpets, books, toys, coffee tables and pillows — definitely lots of pillows. Try to avoid digital devices like laptops, tablets and phones. Let your kids find offline fun and even let them be bored. Boredom is proven to be beneficial and brings out creativity and imagination.
4. Storytelling, role-playing and imagination
Building on that last point, imagination, role-playing and storytelling are the core of any den play. It’s not really about the den itself, it’s what happens inside and around it. So ask your kids: Is it a cosy holiday house? Or a camping tent in the woods? Is it a fire or police station, the base of life-saving missions? Is it a secret hideaway for detectives and spies? Once your kids figure out what it is, challenge them to come up with playful activities around that theme. Will they invite friends for tea and cake? Will they draw and decorate the space as a real fire/police station? Are they out for an adventure or mission...then where are their maps, magnifying glasses, compasses and top classified folders?! Give them a starting point, an open question to spark their imagination and let them build stories and life into their new space.
We hope you enjoyed Dejan's advice. So, if your kids are getting bored on wet days or during the long summer holidays, or if you have a spare minute at the weekend, encourage your children to make an indoor den... and remember... leave the tablets and other devices outside of the den... the human brain is the best app ever invented!