THE WORLD CAN appear immense when you’re a small person – so maybe that’s part of the appeal of retreating somewhere small and cosy, where you feel safe and cosseted. Memories of the womb, perhaps? Your child’s enjoyment of tight corners and special spaces begins with the early security of being held closely to you. And this love of small confined spaces continues through toddlerhood.
“A nine-month-old loves to sit in a box; at 12 months, he’ll love to crawl through a tube; at two, he’ll enjoy sitting under the table,” says child psychologist Dorothy Einon. “Although we require more freedom of movement as we grow up, the comfort of being contained never disappears. While a small space without an easy escape can be claustrophic, one with an easy exit gives us enough security to let go of pent-up feelings.”
Secret hideaways can come in all shapes and sizes. You can create a simple indoor den, with sheets strewn across the sofa and an armchair or a simple makeshift outdoor camp. There are also lots of wonderful tents and tipis to buy: we love this canvas Cowboy Wigwam from Lakeland, that’s easy to assemble and packs neatly away so you can transport it for imaginative play at the park, in the woods, or even on the beach.
For your child, the benefits are a chance to indulge in some inspired imaginative play and the opportunity to escape into their own special hideaway – a little retreat that’s designed especially for them. “It is absolutely essential to remember that children need some time and space away from the adult gaze,” confirms Tim Gill, former former director of the Children’s Play Council. “ In their secret places, all kinds of imaginative processes come into play.
At the same time, they are experiencing their first taste of independence.” Even if it is in a little tipi at the bottom of the garden – and you are secretly keeping a watchful eye from a distance…