Are you a den builder?

If so, here is a den building challenge for you…

To coincide with the publication The Den Book we thought we would set all you den builders a challenge.  Have a go at building the most spectacular outdoor den in your local woodland,  park or garden.  Then post up a picture of it on Going Wild facebook page, or tweet it using the #thedenbook.  We will be giving away signed copies of The Den Book to the best entries over the summer.

Only conditions, it must be outside, it must be yours, you must respect nature and it must be wild!

It may be a temporary structure enjoyed in the moment, or it might be built on a site where it can be re-visited regularly and worked on over time.  We believe it is important for children to have freedom to design and build outdoor dens themselves with only a little help if absolutely necessary;  it needs to be their space and adults are only allowed to join in if invited!

Was there a single life-changing moment that opened your eyes to the wonders of nature?  Or were you drawn in over endless days of freedom playing in wild places?  Experiences such as crawling through long grass, playing hide-and-go-seek, perching in the swaying boughs of an ancient tree or playing with friends in your very own fort built of sticks and leaves draw children into nature and lead to an insatiable curiosity about the wild world.

Why are outdoor dens special?

Outdoor dens are universal play spaces; you can make them almost anywhere out of almost anything.  They are all about escaping and using your imagination.  They are places  to be creative, to make up the rules, to explore the natural world and to create magical play spaces.

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Most people have a story to tell about their special childhood dens.  Mine was an amazing hollowed out tree, which we named ‘The troll tree’.  The entrance was too small for adults to squeeze into and there was a narrow escape exit out back, just in case the troll came home to surprise us.  Likewise my children, given a bit of scrubby area at the back of our garden away from adult prying eyes, with permission to do pretty well what they liked in it, (within reason of course),  happily put down their screens and spent many hours, day after day, playing and perfecting their den.  


Hedgerow hideaway-7They built it themselves using old bits of pallet in and around a leylandii hedge. They climbed up inside to reach a lookout at the top and made an upper story on the roof of the garden shed.  They ate their supper in it,  dug and planted the garden round it, and were constantly remodeling and filling it with precious keepsakes.   It became a place to ‘chill’, or the venue for wild parties and sleepovers.  They loved it because it was theirs, but most importantly they had time to explore, judge risks for themselves and learn from their mistakes.  

More den ideas

An outdoor den might be a stick camp in the woods, a hideaway in a garden hedge, a leafy shelter for spying on wildlife, or a little house nestling among the branches of a favourite tree.  It may be a driftwood shelter at the beach, an old shed converted into a mud cafe, a green leafy hidey-hole in a living willow dome or a hobbit hole among ancient tree roots.  

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Throw a rug over a washing line, turn a garden trampoline into a space rocket, a football goal into a cowboys camp, or a cardboard box into a castle.  Take indoor furniture outside so you have an outdoor indoor den! Or perhaps a den will be on a miniature scale; a castle for a toy soldier or a mini tipi for a teddy. Be creative, encourage children to use their imaginations; perhaps they will disappear into other worlds or times through a portal into a parallel world where woodland warriors, forest fairies or dangerous dragons hide among the trees.  

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Responsible den building

Of course we don’t want to see our precious woodland, parks or gardens destroyed.  Always make sure that young den builders understand their responsibilities and become nature’s caretakers.  Encourage them to look after wild places wherever they are, to be careful not to damage living trees and plants and only collect loose building materials.  If making dens from non-natural materials, be sure to clear them up when you leave and take everything you took out with you back home.

We at “Going Wild” believe making space in our children’s lives for some “wild”time makes them happier and healthier.  It is vital this generation of children spend time outdoors, interacting with the natural world so they become as familiar with it as they are with technology.  Only then will they understand their connection with the fragile ecosystems on which all our futures depend.

If you need ideas more ideas have a look at The Den Book. Post pictures of your wonderful dens on facebook: going wild or tweet using #thedenbook.  Write a few words about why your den is so special; we will be giving away copies of The Den Book to the most inventive and imaginative entries.  

For further details about The Den Book and our many books encouraging fun outdoor adventures, visit our website Our Books on this site or go to our publisher’s wesbite