Garden Makeover

Willow Den Making

Back in June I attended a willow den building session offered by the local authority which became the start of agarden transformation at my setting.  Itoffered such a useful, engaging and different training session for local earlyyears settings. I was thrilled to participate and came home with lots of ideasof ways to engage my early years children and to focus on trying to create anarea of my garden specifically for Den making.

My practice has been focused on improving outdoor activitiesfor the past couple of months and my garden has been looking somewhat tired andin need of a serious revamp. But like many things we need to prioritise and Ifound that going on this course made me re assess my priorities and start tothink about my practice…. Am I making the most of my outdoor area? Is mysetting reflecting the outstanding level of care I want to provide? Are thechildren engaged and given a beautiful space in which to play and learn?…unfortunately on reflection I had to answer No to some of these points.

Whilst care is of course not compromised by a slightlyneglected outdoor area the overall natural and accessible elements of mysetting is… so things needed to change.

So I came home and did a selfassessment. I looked at all areas of my garden and decided on an area to createa Den. I also decided that I needed to refresh my decking area and add somespace for the children to grow vegetables. This training had given me a wake upcall and whilst the boarders are lovely and I have chickens and play equipmentto engage them these are all fairly closed activities rather than the openended areas I want.

So how has the physical environment changed?

I think the easiest way to showyou is via photographs. All these changes have taken place since the trainingand the children are already benefitting from an enriched environment. Thephysical environment has changed and this has lead the children to being moreengaged in activities and given them a sense of purpose. The older children aretending to the new greenhouse plants and checking on their growth and playing inthe den whilst the younger ones are enjoying our re vamped toddler area andmark making station.

Whilst all of this is notstrictly Den building it has all been spurred on by the training. Includingmaking books available outdoors as influenced by the story telling element ofthe evening. I wanted to create a space full of enriching resources that thechildren could get involved with and be proud of.

Whilst we cannot physicallycreate a willow den at the moment as it is out of season we made the most of ourspace to create the next best thing and the children helped pick the resourceswe used. We visited garden centres and shops and they were brilliant supervisorsduring construction.




I created a nicer home corner and mud kitchen for the younger toddlers– close to the house and utilising our old play kitchen rather than it going tolandfill. With the addition of some pots and pans collected from the charityshop it is looking accessible and engaging.


The potted plants had all died and the decking was looking less thaninviting so I created a sensory area filled with bee attracting plants and useda wooden pallet to create a painting station so that the children could markmake outdoors (also linking to the mark making training earlier this year)



How amazing to create a den area. I had an area of my garden which wehad been clearing ready to plant up but decided to re dedicate this as a Denarea. I cleared some of the low hanging branches to make the area moreaccessible and cladded the fence with bamboo panelling. I was able to get somecrates from a local shop and we planted up some baskets with strawberries andscented flowers.

The children helped to pick some of their favourite books to add to abasket that can easily be brought in at the end of the day.

This area can further be improved in the future as we plan to create awillow den here with an arch to hang fairy lights from.


The most important part of this project has been involving thechildren. I was mindful that they would see the environment change and wantedthem to have some responsibilities and also pride in their environment.

We went to the garden centre and picked some new plants and then wecame home, re potted them then have been tending to them. In just afew weeks wehave seen lots of growth and it is very exciting seeing the first buds appearon our tomatoes.

I have loved seeing the childrenplaying in their new areas and they are engaged in their own play. Lots of openended play has taken place and the children are using their environment to makediscoveries. The plants are already attracting lots of wildlife and we haveeven found some frogs which before now have been few and far between in ourgarden.

I’m amazed how much more we areusing the space. It’s become exciting and somewhere we want to be. I amenjoying my daily life more and I can only put this down to happier childrenand a more beautiful space.

So what’s next?

I’ve got the bug and want tocreate more engaging areas in my garden. I have a run down mud kitchen areawhich is crying out for a revamp. I think this is now going to be possible as Ihave learnt that with abit of focus and by thinking about resources and gettingthe children involved we can make this a learning opportunity and give thechildren something exciting to help create themselves.

So our first step is to startlooking in the charity shops for new pots and pans and we were lucky enough soget some of the tts potion bottles recently and also the freebee scoops fromthis amazing training.

I am due my inspection at anymoment and truly hope that OFSTED will see the lengths I have gone to over thepast month to improve my setting and make it the best it can be.

I thank you very much for this amazing opportunity to improve mypractice and hope that more ‘forest’ based learning and training opportunitieswill arise in the future.

Jen x