Seeing a child make their first fire is something very special. It might only be small and short lived but the moment the spark from their strike of the fire steel hits the right bit of cotton wool and the first flames wander over the white tinder, are moments for children to be very proud of themselves.
Fires play a key role in Forest School. As the weather takes a turn for the chillier, they not only provide much needed warmth, but are also fantastic in terms of providing purposeful educational benefit. Moreover, they possess the capability to enchant a child's imagination as they watch the smoke and flames dance around each other and embers flicker and glow beneath.
When approaching fires with children, I am of the consideration the earlier the better. Whether it be a small fire at the bottom of the garden, seeing a bonfire in November, or even helping to light the wood burner in your homes, arming the children with the right knowledge and respectful mindset is key if they are to be responsible and develop self-assessed risk strategies in the future. At Free Rangers we rarely use matches, and opt instead for Fire Steels. Making a spark with them is the 'relatively' easy part (its quite tricky actually), it's putting that skill into practice that's the key to fire success.
Over the past few weeks, we have been using fire as a focus to build our sessions on. Throughout any session involving fire, fire safety is something that is discussed throughout any session regardless of whether there is fire or not, so that it becomes second nature. Yes, fires are a risky activity for the children to take part in but we firmly see the beneficial properties are worth the risk. Furthermore the use of key vocabulary is important in enabling not only the practitioners to gauge the children's comprehension of fire, but arms the children with the right knowledge to underpin their own understanding. At Free Rangers we like even the youngest of children to experience the sensory side of fires at the very least. The smell of smoke the colour of the embers and the heat of the flames all play a part in building a positive relationship around fires. As the children progress through the nursery they begin to develop a more tactile relationship with fires and fire making. For example they may start with collecting and processing firewood, which may then develop to being able to feed the fires the collected wood. Next the children would be introduced to the basic structures and methodology of lighting fires and the theory behind combustion (i.e. the fire triangle: heat, air and fuel).
The preschoolers have been given the chance to not only have a look at the lighting fires but also building fires as well. Fire steels are a tricky business and take a good deal of motor skill development and muscle memory to master. It's not my aim for the children to be competent fire lighters, but rather to experience and enjoy the process of fire lighting. Sometimes on their own, sometimes with a little assistance, they have been firing sparks onto some pre-fluffed cotton wool and exploring the forthcoming flames. We then talked with the children about all the different elements that we need: cotton wool, dry thin kindling, fire steels, and how these components fit together to make larger more sustaining fires. We let the children have a go at building one, which inevitably fails, but we then unpack why it did and have another go. Once lit, the children are then free to add fuel and sit around it to enjoy the warmth and talk about their thoughts on the fire, what they can see, smell and feel, and any experiences they want to share. We often find just sitting around the fire provides an opportunity for children to share much more freely than anywhere else.
Whilst fires will aways burn out, it's my aim that the experiential memory of it won't. That's what Forest School is about for me: creating and cementing positive memories of a childhood based outdoors, and picking up a few extra skills in the process...
Thanks for reading as always,