• The JABADAO Team

Secret places

If I ask you to remember some of your best games as a child, the things you most like doing or playing, does den-building feature?

Perhaps outside with anything you could find - sticks, crates, branches, grass. Or inside with … anything you could find. Hours of constructing the space you wanted, or the space that your materials would allow. A space and world that was all yours; nothing to do with your adults. Secret (even if highly visible!)

I still vividly recall ‘The Roundhouse’. It was made with my older brother in the sitting room, with chairs and sheets. And, best of all bests, all the gaps in the ‘walls’ were filled in with piles of books and pots and pans, until - if viewed from the outside - there was a total jumble of stuff. But inside it was a beautiful, dark and secret place.

Recently, before lockdown, when young friends came round to play, they built something similar in my house. It was not something they had done before … they were a little bit open mouthed that they would be allowed to ‘make a mess’, But they totally loved it - and asked to do it again whenever they visited.

"The den is the chrysalis out of which the butterfly is born"

Den research

Academics researching den play a little while ago discovered that it was, indeed, disappearing from children’s play. Inside and out.

Astonishingly, when they discovered this in Norway, a project called ‘Try Yourself’ was set up and children were paid to make dens - for a decade! They thought it was that important.

There have been plenty of urban play specialists, and architects, who have recognised the importance of creating spaces for den building outside - close to children’s homes - places they can create spaces that they love, rather than use equipment supplied by adults. But we don't seem to be doing so well on making it happen. Rather the opposite.

David Sobel, a developmental psychologist, describes den building as “the child's chance to create a home away from home that is secret, and becomes a manifestation of who they are. The den," Sobel suggests, "is the chrysalis out of which the butterfly is born.”

New JABADAO Den Kits

The JABADAO team has been experimenting with den building over a long time now and we have used the lockdown time finally to get to grips with it. Of course, the significance of making safe, private, delightful spaces when the general space is so uncertain, hasn’t escaped us. And, indeed, it makes it even more relevant for children. Having a safe, secret, protected space, where they can create their own reality and their own house rules, can be hugely therapeutic in the midst of living with new levels of stress and uncertainty all around them.

" ...den-building supports loads of the Floor Play and Halfway Play that is essential for both developing and maintaining bodies, but which is so often side-lined or unnoticed".

Den building, bodies and movement play

Den making is such a physical thing - both in the making and the using. As well as all the 'educational stuff' adults notice and name - like the co-operation, the focus, the problem-solving, the creativity, the independent learning - den-building supports loads of the Floor Play and Halfway Play that is essential for both developing and maintaining bodies. Physical things that adults don't notice (or value?) as much.

So we have made some dens kits - designed to inspire adults, to support children, to make dens indoors and out.

A canopy, pegs, ties, pockets for your toys - and an infinite number of dens to make. OK - tamer than a wild, outdoor den made with available rubbish, but still a collection of ‘loose parts’ that come together in an endless number of ways, requiring all the creativity that a child can muster. A starting point for hours of problem-solving, creative, imaginative and physical play.

And they are beautiful…

Beautiful enough for the adults to slide into with a G&T when the kids have gone to bed!

Please pass it on. Tell anyone you know who might like one for their kids, (or themselves).