The Wonder and Joy of Secret Places
My childhood play often led to my mother’s cherry wood dining table. With a lace tablecloth on one end and a patchwork quilt on the other, the world beneath became a castle, a cave, a hobbit hole, a napping house. When the dining room table could no longer hold my dreams, I sought out the evergreen with boughs laden with snow, the boulder hidden among the tall grasses, or the attic loft with sunlight streaming through its dusty windows. I never outgrew my love (and need) for secret places. Even as an adult, I seek them and find them and revel in their ability to bring peace and rest to my soul.
You can help your children discover their own secret places. There are two guidelines to follow in this endeavor. First, a secret place ought to evoke feelings of security, warmth, and wonder. Second, secret places lose their specialness if held onto forever. They must move or change every so often. Otherwise they can quickly become just another corner to accumulate clutter.
There are four elements to creating a secret place: setting, timing, decor, and teardown.
Setting is everything. There are many places to choose from. Here are some of the settings we’ve used and found successful: the front porch, the deck or backyard, the living room, the garage, the basement, the treehouse, the guest bedroom, the woods behind the house, the cubbyhole beneath the stairwell, or an empty lower cupboard in the kitchen. Yes, that’s a possible setting! Choose your space wisely by asking yourself the following questions:
Is it capable of providing privacy yet visibility?
Will it fit into the fourth step of teardown?
Do I have the patience to bring the decor to this setting?
Will it evoke a feeling of security, warmth, and wonder?
Oh, how a bombastic, unruly attitude can ruin a place of peace! It’s important to be sure your timing is just right for this peaceful activity. Participants ought to have run off their energy before you begin. It’s also a good idea to talk about what you’re doing and why. Set the tone and create an atmosphere that evokes a feeling of joy. My kids enjoyed building or creating their secret place sometime after lunch, as it gave us time and provided a place for naps.
Decor must remain simple in order to keep anxiety at bay. A beautiful quilt, a fluffy pillow, a lamp with a gentle glow, a side table, and a soft place to sit or lie down are all you need to begin. Once you’ve gathered these items and arranged them in your setting, consider adding such things as soft music, a warm cup of tea with lots of milk and sugar, a light finger food snack, a book or journal.
Consider the tear down schedule in advance. It’s tempting to set up a space that feels somewhat permanent, but I would not recommend this. The beauty of this special time is that it is special. If you’re enjoying the time, it may be okay to leave the space set up for one or two days, but beyond that the space loses its sparkle. It’s better to seek out a new space and experience the joy of creating all over again.
I’ll share a few of my special places with you (though you’ll want to find and create your own). Let your imagination and the parameters of your home and life guide you.
Secret Place #1: Glamping in the Living Room
This special place takes time to create, but it’s so worth the effort. Set up whatever tent you own. If it requires stakes think about how you could use books or weighted bean bags to set off the corners of your
tent. Remember, it’s not staying up that long! Place an area carpet on the floor of the tent and drag a single mattress in (no box spring, just the mattress). Make the mattress up just like a bed. Now add your side table, soft lamp, and fluffy pillow. This may be enough, but don’t be surprised if suddenly you feel the urge to put white twinkly lights on the tent or provide a little popcorn or light snack. We did this just before nap time. I would put on a “sounds of nature” CD, and we’d all fall asleep to the sound of rain or waves crashing on the beach.
Secret Place #2: The Woods behind the House
As a child, I was fortunate to have woods and meadows and streams to explore. I rarely needed anything more than a good book and a small blanket to make my secret place all my own. Though the story The Tanglewoods’ Secret by Patricia St. John did fuel some ideas about creating wigwams with branches, I was rarely able to find enough branches to match the beautiful setting in my mind.
My children have not experienced woods behind our house, but we did have several trees standing close together. I invested in some inexpensive hammocks which we strung up between the trees. Some fluffy pillows and warm blankets paired with classical music created the perfect space to dream. We spent hours looking up through the branches, watching the birds and squirrels scamper back and forth. Don’t have a hammock? Throw down some blankets beneath the trees and be sure to provide lots of pillows for comfort.
Secret Place #3: The Biggest Kitchen Cupboard
This special place happened by accident. One day, our two-year-old son disappeared somewhere in the house. After much panic we found him fast asleep in the kitchen cupboard. He’d pushed the few dishes that were in there out onto the floor and curled up with his blanket and pillow for a snooze. After that day, I installed a push light on the inside and moved the dishes to another cupboard. He would take small toys and his flashlight in there and play and talk and sometimes fall asleep.
Secret Place #4: The Garage
We’ve not always had a garage in each place we’ve lived, but when the boys were 2, 8, and 13 we had a large two car garage and only one car that never seemed to make it into the garage anyway. So, one day we swept out the garage and laid out an area rug in the middle. We used boxes from our recent move and built an impressive fort. We used the refrigerator box for the front door, the washer and dryer box became the bedrooms, and the little moving boxes were reconstructed and stacked like bricks to make a wall.
Creating these places provides a wonderful sense of togetherness. Be sure to involve your children in the process. You may find their creativity surpasses yours. You may also discover the joy of being in the secret place with your children. May you have many happy hours filled with wonder and joy!
Joleen Steel is the curriculum specialist for Camping Stick Kids. She has a B.A. in elementary education. She taught public school for ten years before deciding to open her own music studio and homeschool her boys. Joleen is a pastor’s wife and grew up as a pastor’s kid. Her love for the good news of Jesus Christ flows out of her and into the camping stick kids curriculum. Her easy style and creative approach to teaching will encourage your student to learn the Gospel story and be able to share the good news with their friends and family. Joleen would love to have you visit the camping stick kids website and blog. Come say hi at www.campingstickkids.com