As a parent I’ve bought many play items for my children, but the one that has outlasted all the others is a cheap, camouflage ground sheet. My kids have built den after den – and the odd slip and slide when the weather is scorching – after den. When I noticed the camouflage sheet appear on the grass recently, I knew Spring was on its way and the serious work of play was underway.
“Now, I realise, they were making sense of how to feel safe at a time when everything around them was changing.”
The pegs were soon lost but the kids have been ingenious in their solutions finding any length of string, pegs from the washing line, stones and branches to pin down or tether the sides. The sheet is attached to trees, the fence, the climbing frame in all manner of ways, even once with simple Sellotape. Play is the work of childhood and this is where the list of benefits starts, with problem-solving.
Making dens is an element of play children love. The opportunity is there to be creative, make a safe space, to engineer. If they set about it with siblings or friends the team spirit and investment in this shared project fosters social communication.
As a mum to two boys, our ground sheet was bought in a bid to encourage them to blow off steam outside. This is what is referred to as heavy work. While they are outside running about, lifting, carrying, stretching they are using all of their large muscle groups. As the play settles into a rhythm, children’s brains are organising and calming. Quieter play tends to follow the set up and having a picnic in the newly made den sees opportunities for enjoying the den and sharing a snack.
At Beacon Family Services we talk about how play can be used to support children to feel safe. In the first few months of this pandemic my children returned to den building with vigour. Initially I embraced this as a forest school solution to home school. Now, I realise, they were making sense of how to feel safe at a time when everything around them was changing.
Den building is one of the play activities featured in our Cards to Help You Connect which support children’s healthy development and relationships.
As a not for profit organisation we are committed to supporting our wider community and the work of the organisations we partner with. Therefore, we’ve allocated portion of the profits of each sale to support families who may not be able to afford therapy and a portion of the profits to support the work of AdoptionUK.
Charlotte Jenkins is the founder and a director of Beacon Family Services. She is an experienced social worker supporting children and families therapeutically using Theraplay and Dyadic Developmental Psychotherapy.