Den and Shelter building safety when working with groups outside
Children and adults alike love building dens. The opportunity to create a safe space, an individual and group space and to interact with that space on their own terms..to have control over a space and to share that gives a sense of empowerment and well being. Creative potential, fantastical potential as what to you and I may look like a leaf becomes something else- an umbrella, a blanket, a water funneling system, a signal to alien life, den building offers the safe space to really be childlike and explore the wonder of the outside and the inside. So, how do we manage it safely with groups?
It is important to approach den building safely and mindfully. Risk assessment is key as is teaching a safe working ethos and promoting team work in the group in addition to individual den building opportunities.
Over the years, we have provided den building sessions and activities for school groups, saturday and holiday clubs, inset training, forest school training, festivals, events and parties so have a wealth of experience in teaching core den building skills and safety. Attached to this blog post is a den building guidelines document which we share with our leaders, trainees etc and hope you will find useful. It is not an exhaustive document, but will give you some great advice. The most important thing is to have practised yourself, both in erecting natural and tarpaulin shelters. Try in changing/ variable weather conditions and with different scenarios- a quick tarpaulin construction, putting up a tarpaulin using poles as well as trees. Effective use of rope is key too. How will you hitch the tarpaulin? We use the timber hitch most regularly, followed by the clove hitch, both easy to tie and to undo- no knots! If making natural shelters- have you ever actually made one yourself? Have you considered teaching about stability, effective use of poles and pole strength? Gathering natural materials in harmony with the woodland environment. There are many factors to consider and many competencies to build before you ‘branch out’ into teaching these skills.
But..it’s worth it! Time and time again, children want to practise den building and seem to never get bored of it!
It teaches them about materials, is great for problem solving and design skills and also can be very cohesive within the group. As the group confidence builds, get them to make a shelter that everyone can share, then get out the hot chocolate and woodland cake and celebrate their success. Even better, marshmallows on the fire after a successful den build. This creates lifelong memories for the group as well as boosting self esteem and gross and fine motor skills. It is also great for linking children, young people and adults to the ancestors, deepening their appreciation of the skills they must have had. Den building can also be linked to other cultures- how do people build elsewhere? some still build by hand using the materials immediately around them. There is lots of material here for cross curricula learning.