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HOW TO HELP YOUR KIDS BUILD AN INDOOR DEN

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Design engineer, Dejan Mitrovic on how to build the world’s best den

How to build an epic fort for the kids indoors...

1. Starting with a plan

Every good design project starts with a plan. Does that sound too much like hard work? It’s not really, because the planning can also be fun. Let’s rephrase it to a ‘mission’ and ‘strategy’ and it’s suddenly more exciting for everyone. Our mission is to build a great den. What does ‘den’ mean? A space with a purpose, a shelter of some sort to be used for certain activities. And what does ‘great’ mean? Structurally strong, cosy and fun. So we need to make a strategy of how to achieve that mission! Think about its purpose, where will we build it, what materials will we use, how many people should fit and how long will we use it for. Once you’ve made a strategic plan, we can get to action...

2. Choosing location and building materials

It’s now time to figure out where is the best place to build the den and what we can build around it. Once we know that, let’s think about what building materials we can find around us: furniture: chairs, tables, sofas, beds, shelves, armchairs, doors, etc. These will be our starting point, but now we need to make walls and a roof. Do we have any blankets, bed-sheets or other fabrics? I’d recommend using lighter fabrics such as bed-sheets as they will hold better and will be easier to attach to furniture. 

3. It’s all about the interior design and props

We’ve completed our structure, or let’s call it our ‘architecture’, now we need to equip and decorate it inside, so it’s cosy, pleasant and functional. Lighting is a key thing for any interior, and same applies to children’s dens and forts! Bring a torch to illuminate the scene and make it more like a camping adventure. Other perfect props for dens include: rugs, mats and carpets, books, toys, coffee tables and pillows, definitely lots of pillows. Try to avoid digital devices like laptops, tablets and phones. Let your kids find offline fun and even let them be bored. Boredom is proven to be beneficial and brings out creativity and imagination. 

4. Storytelling, role-playing and imagination

Building on that last point, imagination, role-playing and storytelling are the core of any den play. It’s not really about the den itself, it’s what happens inside and around it. So ask your kids: Is it a cosy holiday house? Or a camping tent in the woods? Is it a fire or police station, the base of life-saving missions? Is it a secret hideaway for detectives and spies? Once your kids figure out what it is, challenge them to come up with playful activities around that theme. Will they invite friends for tea and cake? Will they draw and decorate the space as a real fire/police station? Are they out for an adventure or mission...then where are their maps, magnifying glasses, compasses and top classified folders?! Give them a starting point, an open question to spark their imagination and let them build stories and life into their new space.

5. Making a den that will actually stand

I know what you’re thinking… This is all great, but our dens always keep falling apart, I have to help my kids put everything up and they use my hair bands and clothes pegs, which don’t really work and plus I need them for what they’re actually meant for! This is where I come in and I declare an interest: my educational start-up Kidesign has launched ‘Densters’. These are little den-building toy monsters. They clip, grab, bite and tie blankets and sheets to allow kids to build the most amazing blanket forts and dens at home. They were launched on Kickstarter this month and you have until December 1 to pre-order them. They will take your den building to a whole new level...

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