When children become creators

W ith a myriad of possibilities and only a few rules, Nicolai for børn (Nicolai for Children) is a bit of a Pippi Longstocking house. Located in Kolding, the activity house’s theatre, jungle room, and workshops are designed to awaken the creator in all children.

When adults enter the Nicolai for Children house, there might be a moment of hesitation– but not so for the children who are immediately drawn in by the foam blocks, climbing tower and floor-to-ceiling ropes of the jungle room. However, the jungle is just one of the centre’s many engaging activity areas. “The whole design of the house is centred around the wish to create a universe where the children become creators – it’s not about the result, but about the process,” explains head of Nicolai Culture, Mette Strømgaard Dalby. “When parents see the theatre’s make-up table, for instance, they often expect that an adult will draw pretty butterflies on the kids’ faces, but no, we’d rather that the kids do it themselves. And they do, wholeheartedly!The result might not always be too pretty, but they love it.”

The theatre, like all the other activity spaces, has no rules and no adults to guide the fun. But, as Dalby explains, the kids quickly get started on creating their very own make-up, costumes and role-plays on the professionally set stage.


Social, physical or creative – it’s all play

Designed by the award-winning architecture firm Dorte Mandrup Arkitekter, Nicolai for Children is a multi-layered universe of fun and creation for children aged two to 12. In addition to the different activity rooms, the house includes several creative workshops, including a woodwork workshop. “The activities appeal to different groups – those who like physical play, those who like social interaction and those who are into using their hands,” explains Dalby. “Of course, all children have a little of all of it in them, but there’s always one thing that appeals more than the others.”

Noteworthy of all the offers and activities is the fact that they are not made with toys and children’s tools, but in many cases professional props and utensils. This goes for the theatre, too, which has a professionally set stage with turning pieces and costumes designed by a professional film-costume maker, as well as the creative workshops and events. “Children are little people, and of course we take into consideration their age when we have artist workshops with children, but we don’t differentiate between art experiences for children and for adults, and not in materials either,” says Dalby. “That might sound a bit intellectualised, but it’s important to remember that we’re also just a place where parents and children can come and cosy up. It’s a place to create and have fun – a bit of a Pippi Longstocking house where you get to do a lot of things you’re probably not allowed to do at home.”


The two-storey jungle room is the perfect place for fun and gambolling.

While there are not a lot of rules at Nicolai for Children, all children have to be accompanied by adults – and all adults must be accompanied by children. Most of the time it is, however, not the adults, neither parents nor staff, but the children who lead the activities. “We don’t experience that there’s much need for us to help the children get started. Once the kids get into the theatre room, for instance, some of them start running up and down this big staircase on the stage, then someone discovers the make-up table, and then the costumes, and slowly a play begins to take shape,” explains Dalby. “It’s not like a kindergarten where there’s an adult to tell everyone when it’s time to play or paint.”

This goes for the more active experiences as well as the calmer ones, such as the drawing room, a room with the whole floor covered in paper, and the reading corner where children can cosy up and listen to the storytelling robot. Indeed, the many facets of the house ensure that there is something that appeals to everyone, from local children to architects and tourists, says Dalby. “We have a lot of people coming by to see the house, including a lot of city planners and architects, but the most spontaneous surprise and astonishment comes from tourists, many of whom have never seen anything like it. A 1,300-square-metre culture centre for children, and designed for children – that’s not something you’ll find in many places.”


At Nicolai for Children, children get the space and tools to create their own art, whether it is a theatre play or painting.

Nicolai for Children in brief:

-Nicolai for Children is an activity house offering a variety of creative activities for children aged two to 12.

-Children have to be accompanied by an adult.

-Nicolai for Children is part of the Nicolai Culture Centre in Kolding.

Entrance: 40 DKK (around 4.60 GBP)


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