One of the big surprises this year was the versatile way in which children chose to play with a pair of willow lattice arches. When I first saw these in a Derby nursery, I could see they were very open-ended. I was not surprised that the children used them to make different sorts of dens. Some types were the "block ups" which are all about keeping other people out and are territorial.
They have also been places to hang out in a casual sort of way. Draping material over the top of these or having material available for this purpose has worked well. Interestingly, a fishing net was ignored yet this camouflage net was popular.
For a long time we had a mini swing set up. The children adored this. Swings are something they love and enjoy. Amazingly the arches withstood the weight and the abuse. If you look carefully we tied the arch on both sides to the heavyweight benches. This helped keep the arch in a fixed position.
Many children like to experience height and climb whatever they can. The child in the photo below has a very good head for heights and is extremely good at climbing and balancing on all sorts of things. Needless to say most of the other children do not attempt to hang out on top of the arch.
The other arch has not been fixed to any other features. This meant it was prone to much more moving about and experiments of different sorts. Once one child realised it could be knocked over, then this proved to be a compulsive daily test. Then the child below discovered it could become a massive rocker.
There was more than enough room for two children. This involved a fair amount of cooperation to get the arch to rock. It was a very physical act involving a high degree of whole body work (if this makes sense)
These willow arches are unique to the Cosy catalogue. They employ someone full-time to make all their different willow structures. The other resource I also ordered last year was four willow panels. These are perfect for moving and den building especially in flat tarmac spaces which do not have nooks and crannies.
Children of all ages will play with them for hours. Every den I see is always different. One thing I have done with these panels is added duck tape along the top and bottom. This stops the willow from springing out. With lots of wet and dry weather the willow does expand and contract.
As you can see, there's a lot of den building associated with these resources. If you want a very readable and informative guide to dens and forts then have a look at Morgan Leichter-Saxby's report: Children's Places of Secrecy and Play. Morgan also has a great play blog, Play Everything, which has links to more of her work on dens. She is one of the founders of Pop Up Adventure Play.