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Playing and learning outdoors: Building dens, what you’ll need and how children can play safely.

Janet Green
3 Apr 2020
5 min read
Playing and learning outdoors: Building dens, what you’ll need and how children can play safely.

Spring is here and daylight is increasing. More than ever this is a time to make the most of gardens and walks to explore, exercise, and learn outdoors as the Easter break approaches.

At Zen we’ve been talking with Janet Green, Forest School Practitioner, and this is the first of a series of posts exploring outdoor learning and play. In this post we’re going to address a question teachers often ask Janet.

‘How can we ensure the safety of children whilst doing fun outdoor learning activities?’

We’ll explore the question and then apply it to an activity.

"Keeping our children safe is paramount in both teaching practice and for parents. With a common sense approach, and sound risk assessment, safety can be planned for and managed. When you move learning activities outdoors it’s useful to consider these three questions:

  1. Are there any obvious hazards that can be moved such as litter or sharp objects?
  2. Are there any hazards that children need a clear instruction to stay away from for example a pond, river, litter or poisonous plants?
  3. What physical boundary do you need in place to keep children safe? (Is there a fence, how does the group stay together? Will you head counting regularly?)

I try to have these in mind when leading outdoor learning activities and also share these questions with the children so they can develop their awareness of keeping safe.

How can we do this in practice? Den Building with your children

Inside or outside, you can build a den. You may be able to get out to the local woods, if not then you can build at home in your garden or even in your front room.

What you’ll need:

  • Some branches and sticks (if you are in the woods)
  • Some pegs
  • A few metres of string
  • Cushions and a couple of sheets (for the garden)

Get these together and you are ready to go!

Before you start, take stock of any safety risks, or even better, involve the children in this discussion to develop their understanding and even have a little fun whilst doing it!

Things to include in your risk assessments might be:

  • What clothing should you wear?
  • What trip hazards will there be?
  • How can you stay safe when lifting large branches?
  • Where will you wash your hands afterwards?

The risks will of course depend on what activity is, and where it takes place. Within the school grounds, on a walk or in your back garden, the most common risks to be considered are slips, trips and falls. These are everyday risks, and having a simple first aid kit available (qualified first aider in school) are both really important.

If you are going outside to use branches nearby, a sturdy tree would be good to build your den against. You may want to make a teepee design like the one below:

However, if you are opting to stick to the garden, sheets might be the best option. If so then you could secure a den either using pegs, or perhaps string. If you have a tree in your garden you could use that as the main pillar or just build around something as simple as a table and chairs.

Once you have built your den, perhaps you could play a board game in it or have a picnic. Enjoy!"

Please ensure all outdoor activities are conducted in accordance with current government guidelines on social distancing.

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