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EYFS Outdoor Enquiry: Where should we build a den?

How do we bring the indoors outdoors?


Children will be developing an understanding of local spaces and a sense of scale. This activity encourages children to notice what places are like, how they feel and how we can interact with them.


Links to Understanding the world

  • Frequency and range of experiences increases children’s knowledge and sense of the world around them
  • Explore the natural world, making observations and noticing details
  • Creating and using simple maps


Links to other areas of the EYFS

  • Communication and Language: This activity provides opportunities for interactions, back and forth exchanges, encouraging use of new vocabulary and speaking.
  • Expressive arts and design: Imaginative play opportunities.


Starting points

You will need:

  • Access to an outside space
  • Den building materials such as blankets, a tarpaulin or play parachute, pegs, sticks


Outdoor enquiry: Where should we build a den?

With a small group, explore children’s ideas about dens. If we were to build a den, what should it be like? Small and cosy? Warm and dry? How big would it need to be? Explore ideas about where a suitable spot for a den might be. Does it need to be sheltered from the wind? Should it be where everyone walks? Would a surface like grass, mud or concrete be the most suitable, and why? Make a shared list of the kind of place you would like to build a den, for example: hidden away; dry; shady; and on grass. Everyone will have different ideas. Collect these, and then decide on a final list as a group.


Go outside and, using your list, look for a suitable place for your den. Pick three spots to compare. For each spot notice the surface, how it feels, and decide whether this is the best spot for a den.


Set up the den in your chosen spot and notice how the environment helps or makes it more difficult for your group — maybe there are positives, such as branches to peg your cover to, or problems, such as the ground being too wet.


  • Take a photograph of your finished den and ask your group to explain why it was the best place for your den.
  • Can children make a map to show others where to find their den?
  • If more than one group takes part in the activity, children can compare which den they prefer and why.


This activity is about place-making, some more ideas to help children create a “sense of place” are:


  • Make a pretend campfire using red and orange fabric, some logs and a pot.
  • Add cushions or logs to encourage places to sit and talk.
  • Add books and toys to use in the den.

Notice what children do and add props to extend play.


How to make this successful

  • Let the children lead the ideas; this is about creating places and learning from mistakes.
  • The dens can stay as part of your provision and you can observe the effects of the weather and how the children build on them as places over time.
  • Provide the activity on a smaller scale indoors too, so that children could build mini-dens for toys in your construction area for example.


Primary Geography/Teaching Geography/Geography articles

Lee, P. (2023) ‘A feel for the outdoors’, Primary Geography, 110, pp. 30-1.

Owens, P. Rotchell, E. Sprake, S. and Witt, S. on behalf of the GA Early Years and Primary Phase Committee (2022) ‘Geography in the Early Years: Guidance for doing wonderful and effective geography with young pupils’, Primary Geography, 109, pp. 19-22.

Rose, A. (2020) ‘Perspectives on outdoor activities and varieties of geography’, Primary Geography, 101, pp. 17-9.


This Teaching Resource was written for the Geographical Association by Sarah Sprake.

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