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Muddy Faces

Tarp den on a yard or hard space

Top tips on how to create a den in a school yard where fixing points are minimal.

Outdoor Play


Making dens with tarps on yards or hard ground can be tricky. It is easier if you have a fence or gate to attach to. There are many interesting loose parts that you could incorporate for creative and simple constructions.

This activity provides some top tips on how to create a tarp den in a yard or hard space with limited anchoring points. Be warned - it can be a bit tricky and having heavy anchor points makes life a lot easier. Hopefully there will be ideas in here you can use to enable den building whatever your space.

What you'll need

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Useful items from our shop

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Environmental Considerations

Consider the environmental impact of preparing, carrying out & completing this activity. Could this impact be reduced? Specific considerations for this activity could include:

  • source of poles
  • use recycled materials

Health & Safety Considerations

Follow your usual operating procedures and carry out appropriate risk benefit assessments.
Some considerations particular to this activity include:

  • using string/cord
  • heavy objects
  • trip hazards

Child-led activity

The wonderful thing about den building is if you provide a good selection of materials you can let the children be the designers, builders and problem solvers. For more on child led activity read child led play.

In this activity we demonstrate some basic den building techniques. We have used a tarpaulin, 2 poles, 2 pole stands for support, and some weights to tie onto.

The basics

You will need:


Fleece, tarpaulins, sheets etc - to cover your structure.


A selection of poles, tubes, planks etc - used to raise and support the den - need to be tied together to create a frame or placed in a crate, hole or stand.


Cord, polyrope, string, bungees, clips, pegs - to give a variety of options during construction.


For example, tyres, log rounds (see next image), traffic cones, sand bags etc.

Den stand

The log shown here is a Muddy Faces multi-use stand - it has different sized holes drilled in it for poles, and loops screwed onto the sides for attachment points.

Building your hard standing den

Stand up the poles

Place two den pole stands in line (the approximate depth of your den). Insert a pole vertically in each hole.

Alternatives to a pole stand

  • if you have a log round you can drill a hole in the centre of it to support a pole. Use a carpenter's brace and a large auger bit to create a large hole
  • fill a bucket with stones or concrete, adding the pole before the concrete sets (use a strong bucket or a small rubber trug).

Create a ridge using a rope & two poles

Place a weight – brick, log, tyre or sand bag (the heavier the better) - in front of one of the den poles. Attach the end of a rope to the weight and lead the rope up to the first den pole.

Take the rope and twist/tie it around the pole in the pole stand.

If you have a hole in the top of the pole (see drilling a pole) you can thread the rope through then twist it around the pole to hold it in place.

Thread the rope through the second pole (or tie it around) and anchor it on the other side, as with the first pole.

This stage will require some fine adjustments of weights and poles to get the lines taut (be careful - it is easy to pull them too much and topple the poles).


If your anchors are not heavy enough it is likely the whole thing may collapse at this point!

If you are using a rectangular tarpaulin create a fold across the longer length and place over the rope ridge (as pictured).


Secure the tarpaulin to each pole - if there isn't an eyelet in this halfway position create an anchor point by tying in a pebble (see images below - click on first one to see a slide show).

pulling out the edges

Now that you have created a ridge and the tarp is secured to the poles you can pull out the sides.

Place a weight roughly in place near to where each corner of the tarp will be pulled out to.

Secure the tarp to each weight using rope/string/bungees, then pull out the weights as necessary to hold the sides of the tarp taut.

create the space inside the den

Make a comfortable sitting area underneath - foam mats, blankets or picnic blankets can be used.

Take it further

Add a provocation - writing materials, animals, bird watching resources or story telling props.


Our Outdoor Hub has lots of useful theory and practical information on dens.

Loose parts, dens & block play

Explore benefits and theories, guides, articles and ideas for using block play, dens and loose parts in your early years, school and outdoor settings.

Read More about Loose parts, dens & block play

Benefits of den building

Den building supports the development of a number of key skills, as well as being a lot of fun!

Read More about Benefits of den building

Free den building guide

Free to download, created by Muddy Faces. An excellent (though we say so ourselves!) and extensive practical guide to indoor and woodland den building.

Read More about Free den building guide


The Muddy Faces shop has a great range of tarpaulins, poles and shelter fixings - visit the following shop sections to find out more.

Cat Loose Parts Boy with crates 600 x 600

Loose Parts & Den Building

At Muddy Faces we provide an inspiring range of loose parts to provide open-ended resources allowing children's creativity to blossom and a wide range of den building equipment that supports you in encouraging children to be innovative and more resourceful.

For more information about dens explore the Dens & Loose Parts section of the Outdoor Hub and our range of Den Building activities!

OPDEN89 Super Light Tarp 20x20

Material Tarps & Bashas

Recycled, superlight or extra large, and made from a range of materials, these tarps are suitable for forest school or other outdoor settings.

FSTAR03L Camo Tarp 20x20

Plastic Tarps

The must have for den building, group shelters or loose parts, these shelters are perfect for using outdoors.

Disclaimer: Muddy Faces cannot take any responsibility for accidents or damage that occurs as a result of following this activity.You are responsible for making sure the activity is conducted safely.

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