Thursday, 19 November 2015

Den Building teaches Design and Engineering Skills

My boys ABSOLUTELY love building dens. Strangely it is an activity we're drawn to in the winter. The wetter and colder weather outside, makes den building a perfect indoor activity.

Over the years we've built dens using large cardboard boxes, bedsheets and blankets and it always seems to involve rearranging the furniture. At first it seems a hassle, but soon we get into the swing of things and the kids really enjoy the process.

Design, Build and Engineering Skills

I would, sometimes, build a den as a surprise when they get back from playschool or school, but mostly we build together. I think the process of choosing the right materials and where to put things, how they will be fixed in place are all part of the fun. What's more, the kids are learning design and engineering skills without noticing.

  1. Design

    - How would you like your den to look and what accessories will you need?
  2. Before you start building your den, spend some time chatting about how you would like it to look. Is this going to be a small den or a large castle with many rooms? Chatting with your child about the design of the den, will help asesss which material and tools you will need for construction. The design step in den building is really important to ensure it is a fun and creative activity and doesn't end up being a frustration because you don't have that large cardboard box or the right tools to make the bedsheet stick to the window.
  3. Materials & Tools

    - What makes good den building materials and tools?
  4. Once you have your design, you can explore the house for your materials and tools. Do you have everything to make this design work? If you find you don't, go back to the drawing board and make adjustments. We have found some brilliant tools (listed below) which will definitely make den building with kids lots more satisfying.
  5. Building & Structures

    -What type of structures are sturdy enough?
  6. Now the fun part, building. My kids love this part and eagerly help with building. You need to help them think systematically about the build process.  What needs to come first to make sure your structure doesn't collapse? How do you connect one material to another? We have used lots of duct tape and clothes pegs in previous den building  missions.

Keep the Den and Accessorise

Kids love creating small cosy spaces to play in

Allow the kids to build a den and keep it in place for several days.  We often build a den at the start of the school holidays and it remains in place for the week. The build process can often be enough for one day, and the kids really start enjoying to play in the den on day 2 and 3.

Have fun making dens this winter!
Be conscious of how you "accessorise" the den.  I have a vivid memory as a child, where my brothers and I set a blanket alight, because we added a lamp inside our den and it was touching the blanket.  Thankfully we caught it in time and no harm was done.

Products to make Den Building more Creative

We found some gems to help make your den building adventures even more fun and creative. Break away from the standard bed sheet over a few chairs and let your creative abilities make extraordinary dens.

Bildy Toys for Imagineers

Bildy, from British designer Jayne Bromfield, are giant sized ‘building boards’ and connectors, that allow kids to build life-size structures and let their imaginations run free. Kids as young as three can create a house, car, truck, tunnel and castle.

We love its gender neutral colours to encourage both girls and boys to play with construction. Bildy is currently running a campaign on Kickstarter, which only has a few days left, if you are interested to get an early bird product.

The Bildy Town App is a brilliant tool to connect the digital and physical worlds for kids. The interior designer in me, just loves the idea of building the structures using the app and then seeing those designs come to life with the "Mega Boards".

MakeDo Tools

MakeDo is an ingenious product which helps you turn the tons of cardboard everywhere, into fantastical creations. The MakeDo tool kit consists of a "safe-saw", "scrudriver" and "scrus" which you use with recyclable household items and cardboard to make your den.  We would say some adult supervision is advisable, but it's the kind of thing you can reuse and kids will get better at working with the kit.

The MakeDo Space Pod kit includes everything you need to make the space pod, except the cardboard. We couldn't really think of a better Christmas gift, especially with the potential tons of cardboard that would be left over on Boxing Day.

We also love that MakeDo is now working with the maker community and have designs for more tools available on Thingiverse which you can 3D print at home. You should be aware that some of the designs are still a "work in progress". MakeDo's free 3D printable files on Thingiverse, include a hinge, mini-tool and angle bracket.


I so wish I found PL-UG, when my kids just started making dens. The amount of times we fought with clothes pegs that just didn't stay put. This is a brilliant kit of connectors which helps to hold your bedsheets in place. PL-UG comes in small, medium and large kits, each with additional connectors.

We recommend a couple of small kits to give you the best value for money. The Small kit contains 2 x clamps, 2 hooks, 2 x suckers, 4 x grips, 1 x sign. The medium kit contains the same items, but includes a sheet and 2 pegs (we recommend using already available clothes pegs and bedsheets from home). The large kit has an additional rod system, 2 pegs and a sheet, but you still only get the same number of other connectors as the small kit.

The bedsheets are secured using the connectors without causing any damage and can be used both indoors and outdoors. I have added a couple of the small kits on Santa's list for my kids this year.

Bild Ogo

If you want to really get the kids thinking, Bild Ogo Pod Construction is perfect. This kit is based on the popular Ogo Bild Bits, where the designers have simply enlarged the connectors to create life size creations.

The kit includes 30 tubes and 12 OGO Bild balls (connectors) to create large lightweight structures. You'd need more than one set if you would like to get really creative with Bild Ogo and your engineering skills will be put to the test.

I came across this set at a recent toy fair and the connectors feel soft, with flexible robs that easily plug into the balls.

Happy Den Building

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