The discussion about building fires in child care programs is growing as ECE’s are trying to spend more time outside as a way of dealing with Covid. The general idea is that a fire will give kids and adults a chance to warm up while being outside for long periods of time in the cold weather. I think we need to go further with this idea. I learned about fires in a child care program, not as a way to warm up, but as a skill and knowledge to expose kids to; how to build a fire, what the purpose of fire is, and how to respect and be safe around fire.
I was first introduced to the concept through Gill Robertson who was a family child care provider at the time. She then connected me with Niki Buchan who shared the concept of lab fires. These are not large bonfires for the sake of having a fire. They are small fires build in a small metal bowl/caldron and used to teach children about fire. This was the first time I had ever used a fire steel. My own skills were growing. I had such a sense of accomplishment when I finally got my little fire going!
As most of you already know I operate a family child care program for infants to school age as well as a forest and nature school program. I offer fire building opportunities in both these programs. If I want children to respect and understand the power of fire, I need to offer these opportunities. We don’t just ‘have’ a fire, we have conversations about fire; fire being a tool that we use for heat, cooking, light, safety.
I know some people are thinking, “There is no way I would ever be comfortable with a fire around the children I care for!” We have very strict rules and procedures around this whole process. We go over and review the rules each time; how we behave around the fire, how we move around the fire area and where we sit to be safe. There is always an adult at the fire pit when starting a fire and while the fire is burning. We start at the very beginning and explore how to start a fire. We talk about what we need and why; cotton balls, petroleum jelly, small kindling, and the flint and steel. I demonstrate how it works and then anyone who wants a chance to try, is able to. The kids can tell me the rules and what we need after their first time being exposed to these tools. The absolute joy on the kids faces when they are able to create a spark is priceless.
I want to provide opportunities for children to build new skills and I want them to know they will be safe if they choose to give them a try. With conversations and opportunities like this, I hope children will go forward with a life long skill and a new connection to nature. As Bev Bos said, “If it hasn’t been in the hand and the heart, it can’t be in the brain.” Offering real opportunities is important if we want kids to learn and retain new skills and knowledge.