The Secret Den – Adults not Allowed

Why are DENS AND FORTS important for kids-Last November my children found where to build their secret den. They wanted an outdoor place where they could hide and play. They didn’t care whether it was a den, a hut or a treehouse as long as it was their secret place with one rule: adults not allowed.

At first they found ‘the’ place nearby but it was right next to a public bridal path. I admit we were worried about letting them out there all alone where strangers had the right to walk or ride right past them.

Luckily there’s a small private wooded area right next to our private drive which had the perfect spot. An adult can only enter this clearing by ducking down through the trees whereas my kids can easily reach it without bending their knees.

In the Autumn wild fungi like to grow in this clearing. The red Fly Agaric might look like they’re out of a children’s fairytale but they’re poisonous. In late Winter snowdrops take their place. Soon there will be a carpet of bluebells. Fly agaric poisonous mushroomsSnowdrops in woods

I gave them some planks of wood and bricks to build a den. Slowly they have been adding sticks to create a roof to their mini fort. Building a secret den

Why are dens and forts important for kids?

The famous naturalist, researcher and author E. O. Wilson said that it is a “fundamental trait of human nature” for children to want a hideaway. They are magical places where kids are not only inspired by nature but allow them to dream and make up their own worlds.

Another renowned US educator, David Sobel, wrote Children’s Secret Places: Exploring the Role of Forts, Dens and Bush houses in Middle Childhood to explain that: “In these secret places, children develop and control environments of their own and enjoy freedom from the rules of the adult world. Children’s Special Places enters these hidden worlds, reveals their importance to children’s development and emotional health, and shows educators, parents, and other adults how they can foster a bond between young people and nature that is important to maturation.”

Dens, or forts, or tree houses, are a place where children can have unstructured play and let their imagination soar. They learn how to use natural materials to build their own special place, often working as a team with siblings or friends.

It is a safe place where kids can make their own rules and decisions without adult interference. Educators say this helps children become more self confident and gain self esteem.

Dens are childrens’ little havens. They also learn how nature is a wonderful place for natural play.

Den hidden in treesSince the last days of winter and the first days of spring, Luce and Theo have been spending hours in their den. Sometimes they call it their little fort. I think they have another name for it but they won’t reveal it to me!

Then this week Theo told me they wanted to go there when it was dark. Perhaps even have dinner there on their own? he asked. Personally feeling that these secret dens or forts are something special to have in one’s childhood, I agreed. I remember as a child wishing that I had a treehouse all to myself.Dinner in denI was only allowed there to bring them their tray of hot dogs and fruit. Soon they were back asking for more. They each ate three hot dogs in their den! I was asked to leave as soon as I brought them their food. I stood nearby and could just see their light behind the trees.Den light at night

I’m happy that they have now an outdoor special place as often in the past we’ve had to make a temporary forts indoors with blankets, cushions and chairs. It’s wonderful for their imagination as I’ve overheard them making up tales with this den as a central player.

The secret place - the outdoor den

I like to think that someday they will look back on their childhood and remember with a smile the adventures they had in their secret den. Did you have a secret place or den as a child?

I’ve also been collecting ideas for dens, forts, tree houses and other special outdoor places on my Pinterest board:
Follow Wild about Here’s board Wild Kids Outdoor Dens on Pinterest.

26 thoughts on “The Secret Den – Adults not Allowed”

  1. Pingback: Country Kids from Coombe Mill | Coombe Mill

  2. That is such a cool den and hideout. I remember as kids we’d all pile down to the old carpet factory opposite our housing estate at the edge of the village at weekends where there were woods behind to build hideouts in. My mum didn’t let us go down there, and there were (unsurprisingly) rumours, and probably truths about security guards and men with guns, so it was all very secretive. We don’t really have anywhere on the farm for N to make anything (it’s all quite open), but I’m sure when he’s older, he and his cousin will get up to mischief and find somewhere secret on our land to hideaway.

  3. Pingback: How to build an awesome den - Wild About Here

  4. Great idea, and good for them to have their place. I’m sure N would love something similar for him and his cousin. Great adventure eating out there too

  5. Oh, that’s really lovely to be able to have that sense of independence and adventure. I loved my den too (although it was only at the back of our garden!)

  6. What a fabulous place! We used to have a lean to against our garden shed for our den, I still remember it with fondness. Our present garden isn’t big enough for a den but the kids have got a couple of places locally that they use. #countrykids

  7. I live in the city where there are no spaces like this. I found my own hideaway though in a school near my house. At the back of their stage is a tree with lots of covers and I stay there every afternoon after my school. This post made me remember that spot where I cry and read my books and magazine. #countrykids

  8. nessjibberjabberuk

    What a fabulous creation of your children! Since I grew up in the London suburbs my brother and I had to make do with the garage. My nan hated us being there as she kept telling us it had an asbestos roof!

  9. Luce and Theo are so fortunate to have a den. I imagine they can’t wait for the weather to warm up a little. I spent most of my childhood making dens and climbing trees and when I look back it always makes me smile.

  10. ~Oh how magical. I had dens growing up, in a public woods, going out with a picnic, and returning for tea. We loved our den, even made a stick brush to brush out the mud, Teehee. Im sure your children will have these memories for a lifetime. #countrykids

  11. What a great Mummy you are to them both. These are the memories they will take with them into adulthood. I still remember hours at the end of the garden with my secret den and my children have done the same. It inspired me to create our den building zone for the children staying with plenty of branches around to create, pretend and develop their own secret hideaways on holiday here. Every child should have these opportunities at some point growing up. Thank you for sharing with me on Country Kids.

    1. That’s so wonderful that you’re providing children staying at Coombe Mill with the chance of experiencing a den. It’ll make their holidays one to remember too.

  12. Oh brilliant! I remember building a secret den with my friends too when I was little, it was such a magical place, a little hideaway only we knew about (until sadly some older kids found it and broke it…). Wish them lots of happy memories there! #countrykids

  13. Oh goodness, what a brilliant place for an outdoor den. They are lucky, it’s a beautiful spot. We grew up near a brook and had lots of hideaways under weeping willows along it’s banks as children. Such happy memories! Thanks for reminding me of them xx

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