Setting up your own dark den
A great place to start is with a black or dark coloured pop-up play tent. Pop-up tents can be more cost effective than specialised dark dens you find available from sensory toy shops. They are also simple to construct – as the name suggests, they simply pop up!
If you don’t have a pop-up tent, hunt around at home for a good space where blankets can be hung to create a dark area. You could consider areas such as under the stairs, a sturdy table or the bottom half of a bunk bed. The next time a parcel arrives in a huge cardboard box, you can cut out a door and use it as your structure. If you have a garage you could consider converting part of it into a safe sensory space. Once you’ve decided on your location, you can then peg dark blankets, towels, curtains or make use of your space blanket to close the open area off to the light and create a cosy snug.
Then, all you need to worry about, is what goes inside.
- Think comfort and discovery – you want this to be a safe, calming space for your child to relax and explore in. Fill your tent with different textured fabrics and cushions. Textures such as fur, sequins, chiffon scarves or a space blanket will add interest. You can use clothes pegs to hang some of the fabrics inside. Foam matts can make a great soft base for the den. As with all activities, don’t leave your child unattended with these items.
- Dangling lights – inside most pop-up tents you should find areas on the ceiling which you can attach lights to – there may be a plastic pole or tie where the door attaches. You can hang a small torch from here or battery operated string lights.
- Choose your toys to go inside – if you have our Early Years Sensory Discovery pack, you will already have a fibre optic lamp and light-up spiky ball to put into your dark den. Other great toys to try are colour changing toys that your child can grasp and make patterns with against the dark fabric.
- Try using one toy at a time so that you don’t overwhelm your child.
- Think about cause and effect toys such as a big button that lights up when you press it.
Visit our toy page for more ideas on what to buy >
In your dark den space, get a UV mat and lots of neon glow in the dark toys. Hang one above the head, place one to the left, one to the right, one behind and one in front of your child. Sit them on the UV mat and let them lead the play – when they move towards a certain toy use language to reinforce the direction that they are moving in to help them to develop a sense of direction. As your child hits their toddler years, start to introduce the words ‘left and right’. All of this learning is helpful in later life and will assist them in activities such as learning to read braille.
Music and light
Songs and lights are a perfect pairing! Lie down with your child and sing the song ‘twinkle twinkle little star’ use a light to recreate the star. Stars may never be visible to your child but by using the song alongside a light and recreating the effect of a star is a good way to develop understanding.
Video resources sharing further ideas
We found these great videos on YouTube to inspire your dark den construction. Just have a search on YouTube or Pinterest to get inspiration yourself and create the perfect space for your family.