When it comes to nature play, sticks are some of my favorite toys – not the least because they’re free and extremely versatile. What may just look like a typical stick to an adult can immediately be transformed to a sword, fairy wand or ladle in the hands of a child. Sticks are also great for art projects and – of course – for building forts and dens!
Although I’m a big fan of unstructured play outside, there are times – especially on cold or rainy days – when the kids don’t want to go outside unless I give them an irresistible reason to do so. It doesn’t have to be complicated, just something that will motivate them enough to forget that the weather isn’t ideal. I’ve found that sticks often fit the bill, and in the spring, we have a lot of them.
I don’t know if it’s an age thing but my kids (3 and 6) haven’t shown any interest in building forts in the woods yet. However, they’re really fascinated with birds’ nest, so on a dreary, cold day a while back I asked them if they’d like build a big den, like a human-sized nest. Aaaannnnd….Bingo! They immediately started looking for suitable branches and dragging them to a spot of their choice.
Here’s how we did it:
First, we made an outline of the structure using branches. We left approximately 3 feet open, so that the girls would be able to get in and out. We then added sticks and branches to form the walls and roof. Strong, curved branches work best for forming the roof for this type of den. Thinner branches with many small twigs are good for filling material.
I gave the girls some suggestions regarding the design and made sure the construction was solid enough that the den wouldn’t cave in on them, but aside from that it was their creation.
We ended up working on the den several days straight and the girls were excited about the process. Even though the design is very rudimentary, I imagine that they also learned some basic construction skills.
Now that it’s warmer out, they sometimes have picnics in the den. It has also been used for imaginative play and as a quiet place when one of them wants to be left alone. It was such a simple thing to do and yet they have found so many uses for it!
Check out these posts for more fun things to do outdoors with sticks:
- Weave a giant sun – fabulous idea from Twig and Toadstool
- Create a cool witch’s broom, like this one from Woodland Trust Nature Detectives.
- Make an outdoor art installation with sticks, like these creative Magic Trees from My Nearest and Dearest.
- Make this neat stick and pine cone mobile from Mommy Loves Trees.
- Upcycle old fabrics by creating stick people, like this lovely collection from Danya Banya.
- Finally, learn about the many ways kids benefit from playing with sticks, or “The Original Wooden Toy,” from Fireflies and Mud Pies!
What’s your kids’ favorite way to play with sticks?
8 thoughts on “Build a Den! And Other Fun Things to Do with Sticks”
This is wonderful! I have always thought that kids and sticks had a ‘special’ connection – your ideas are just lovely. We are presently at our cottage and our yard is full of sticks, as we haven’t completed our Spring clean-up yet. I am going to show the kids your article and see what magic ensues! 🙂
That’s great, Karen! I love it when my posts inspire people to get out and do things in nature with kids. Thanks for reading!
I’m hoping to make a birds nest with Little Man this weekend. Not sure it will end up being a den but we shall see. Little Man is yet to get into den building but I can’t wait until he does! Thanks so much for sharing at the Outdoor Play Party 🙂
Oh good! I hope you’ll have fun with it:o)
thank you so much for sharing and discussing the wonder of sticks and children – there are so many adults who cringe at the thought of sticks. thanks again!! 🙂
Glad you enjoyed it!
Wow, this sounds like so much fun! I will do it with my grandchildren!
Please do! I bet they’ll enjoy it:)