Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Teaching kids to play with fire...and why that's a good thing

I know - it sounds crazy doesn't it?  Teaching kids to play with fire?!

It really isn't.  Fire is a fundamental comfort of human existence.  There's something very special about seeing a fire, sitting in it's warmth, staring into the flames.  There is evidence of man using fire dating back 125,000 years, and many scholars believe that it dates back even further, maybe even 400,000 years.  We've used fire for warmth, cooking and protection from predators for an awfully long time and the current trend for log burners and "living flame" heaters in our homes suggests that we haven't yet fallen out of love with the flame. 

A century ago, most homes would have still been heated by log or coal fires in fireplaces.  Children would have learned where fire goes, and how to light and control a fire safely.  Jump a hundred years and suddenly children aren't allowed near a fire, and even lighting a match for the birthday cake candles is often restricted to the teen years, with whole websites concerned about children who "set fires".  It's true.  Fires are dangerous.  Fire can kill and can be very destructive.  That's why its vital to teach children about fire, to allow them to see flames, to see things burning and to feel the heat in a controlled and safe environment.

How do you teach children about fire?

First of all, don't shy away from having fires.  They are fun!  Here are a few situations where you can involve flames:

  • birthday cakes
  • make candle holders and set them around the garden in the evening
  • make snow sculptures (not just snowmen) - how about a snow dragon with a lit tea-light in his mouth, or snow houses with tea-lights inside?  Your winter garden becomes a magical new land when you involve a few candles.
  • involve children with lighting the BBQ (and get rid of the lighter fluid!)
  • if you have a fireplace at home, teach the children to lay and light the fire
  • have a campfire circle in your garden, or use a chiminea or fire pit.
  • light campfires at campsites, in the woods or on the beach (only where the landowner permits obviously).
Every single time you light any sort of fire with the children, reiterate the safety (my three year old can pretty much recite all this):
  • where do we light fires?  In fireplaces.  Indoors we use proper fire places with chimneys, outdoors we use a chiminea or a fire pit or fire circle.  We make sure there's nothing nearby that could catch fire, think about where the wind is coming from, think about the ground under the fire.
  • What about candles?  Place them on fireproof mat, make sure they are in stable place where they won't get knocked, and are away from anything that might catch fire - curtains etc.
  • When can you light a fire?  Only when there's an adult with me who knows what they are doing.  (As they get older, wiser and more experienced this restriction can gradually be lifted - I certainly trusted some of my 16 year old Explorer Scouts to camp completely unaccompanied, which always included a fire).
  • When can you not light a fire?  Any time there's no adult, or any place where it's not safe.
  • What do we not put on fires?  This list is in no way exhaustive - but includes aerosols, any petrol or other highly flammable or explosive fuel, anything that doesn't belong to me, living wood (leave it on the tree - use fallen wood), any wood that looks as though it's been treated or painted (nasty fumes), plastic (nasty fumes) etc.
  • How big should the fire be?  Only as big as you need it for warmth or cooking.
  • What if the fire gets out of control? Always have a bucket of water / connected hose nearby and access to a First Aid kit.
The more times a child experiences fire in a safe way, and has these safety aspects drilled into them, the less likely they are to do something stupid or dangerous with fire.



What do you think?  Do your kids get the chance to play with fire?

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