Fanning the Flames of Curiosity

Fire. The one captivating tool in my Forest School arsenal that sparks so much creativity, curiosity and focus. And in the case of this week, we certainly saw plenty of sparks... Leading on from our previous week's focus of using tools to process firewood (we get through a hell of a lot of wood when we do have fires!), we gave the children another look at the mysterious processes and functions behind fire, an element that we as humans have feared, respected, and bent to our will since time immemorial. It's the same for both adults and children alike, and even now, after all the fires I have lit in my life do I still love to light, be near and gaze at a fire.

Before we started the sessions we discussed our Forest School rules, paying greater attention on our Fire Pit safety, which we continued to reinforce throughout. We talked about general fires, how we felt about them, what they are used for, and why we don't have a fire every day at Forest School. Then the children were shown our empty fire pit and I posed the question: "We need to light a fire! How should we do it?" This initial part was to see how much the children could recall from previous sessions, as well as their knowledge garnered from other sources (which it turns out is mostly from Fireman Sam...) Not far away I had gathered a range of different sized sticks, cotton wool and fire steels, although they weren't on display as I wanted to see what they could recall without them picking and choosing from a selection or my collection jogging their memory. Each group brought their own ideas to the creation of the fire building. Some realised wood or our fuel needed to go on at some point so in went large sticks and thin sticks, some separate, some piled together.

All groups realised we needed that initial heat source to get the fire started, and the children mentioned lighters, matches as well as rubbing sticks together (one child also suggested petrol which I suggested we didn't use today), which was brilliant as it showed that in man made fires there need to be some sort of ignition to start any combustion. In roundabout ways, the group came to the realisation that a Fire Steel was what we are going to use. We tried striking it straight onto the wood we had 'carefully' placed into the fire pit with no avail. "Why isn't it lighting do you think? Is there anything missing" I asked, hoping some would realised despite the sparks from the Fire Steels being incredibly hot, they are short lived. The children remembered that of course we needed a source of tinder. Our chosen tinder is cotton wool, as it burns quickly, but you get enough of a burn to light your kindling (thin sticks). Cotton wool was then fluffed (as it catches the sparks much easier and burns effectively) and was either plopped straight on top only to burn up quickly and not catch the wood on fire, or correctly underneath so the heat can be passed to the kindling and Hey Presto!

Once our main fire was lit, we talked with the children about what they could hear, see and smell, as fires are such sensory based experiences, (even more so when they are used for cooking!) We also discussed about the different facets and products of fire: the heat emitted from the combustion, the flickering orange flames and glowing embers, the wisps of smoke, and the charcoal and ash that remained. We talked about the clicking, crackling and popping of the fire, and the roar it made when I blew into the embers at the fires heart as well as the smell of the smoke as it rose from the fire.

Satisfied we had covered all bases, I set the children to make their own mini fires in turns, under my watchful eye. Given a fire steel, a piece of cotton wool and some wood shavings from the workshop, we looked at the best way to use the fire steels to create the best spark and then let them have a go. Taking it turns the children initially struggled to generate a spark, as the fire steels can be tricky to use. A few needed assistance to get the positioning of the striker right as it needs to be angled to get the best spark but they soon got the idea. As soon as that initial flame catches you could see the pride and captivation in their faces. I left a few pieces of kindling to see if they could pass that heat energy from flame to wood: the basis of any fire making. This leads them to see that although most of the heat energy goes straight up, in order to catch the wood on fire before the tinder has burnt out, the kindling needs to be relatively close. With the single piece of kindling lit, the child examined how the flame moved, and soon died down leaving a glowing ember on the tip. I was sure to remind the children that although the flame now wasn't around the end was still hot (safety first as always with fire), and could be made hotter by blowing on it, so I allowed them to see how bright they could get their embers to burn with a controlled blow.

With the clear sunny weather a few groups were shown a different method of lighting fire with a piece of old charcoal from the fire and a magnifying glass. Focusing the sun's heat energy onto a small area allowed me to create a glowing ember which was then placed into a ball of dried grass. A few strong puffs of breath to activate the ember and the grass soon heats up and combusts leaving you with a grassy flaming torch which can be used to then start a fire.

It was a really enjoyable week, and a very hot one too with the glorious weather we've had. I have been over the moon with the overall attention span, concentration and level of involvement of the children. One of the children has also given me a new method of describing the fire structures as an "ice cream sandwich" which will be coined after his namesake (waffle on the bottom and top and an ice creamy cotton wool in the centre! Genius!) When making fires with children, it's huge important for me that they get the chance to explore what they have made: giving it a poke with a stick, setting that stick on fire, and blowing the embers are all ways of learning the limits and behaviours of fire, and what they learn will be retained much longer from this exploration, then from me just talking to them. These past few weeks have also highlighted how important it is to give the children space to explore what they have learnt in the session, as we provided some free play afterwards. We've witnessed some excellent role-play and off shoots from the session that help no end in our child centred planning. Play ranged from the children rubbing sticks together to see if they could light a fire, to pretending to be dragons and Fireman Sam, to simply sitting by the last glowing embers and blowing them to see the fires eyes light up.

I'm very much looking forward to doing some cooking with the children next week to see what interests form from there. Enjoy your weekends, where ever they take you.

Happy Summer Solstice!

Mr 'Fire' Fox