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Teaching firemaking

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Autumn and the new school year are now solidly underway, that certainly doesn’t mean we should retreat indoors though! There are still plenty of good outdoorsy activities for us and our children to engage with. In our house “but it’s cold outside” is always met with “better wear warm clothes then”. Once they cotton on to today’s activity though, kids are usually pretty keen to get outside.

We put so much effort into teaching kids about fire safety, but it’s really essential for these to be effective that we also provide them with some positive fire experiences where we demonstrate appropriate times and places for making fire. “Bonfire season” seems like one of the best times of year for this. Each family will need to decide for itself when their children are responsible enough to learn how to make fires themselves, but 11 or 12 seems to be a reasonable lower limit.

Choose the right place

firemaking with kidsFirst of all, you need to find an appropriate spot (and potentially talk with your kids about where fires can and can’t be built). At our house we have a custom fire pit, similar to the one in the picture, but if you’re going to make it on the ground be sure to first clear away flammable materials like leaves and preferably make a fire ring with stones or bricks to designate the fire area and keep it separate from surroundings.

Make sure you’re allowed to make fires at your chosen spot in advance! Some residential areas have laws restricting firemaking and some places that might feel naturally suited to bonfires (eg. beaches) will also have bylaws in place making those spots off limits for fires.

Firewood hunting

Next you need some firewood. Hunting for firewood can be a fun task in and of itself. If there’s time, I like to split firemaking into several parts: hunting for wood in the morning while it’s light, then a long break, then making the fire itself in the early evening. Make sure the kids are collecting the driest possible fuel, never taking wood off living trees. Have them sort the wood by size, from kindling to bigger logs. If any logs need splitting or sawing down to an appropriate size you might want to do it yourself, or you might want this outdoors lesson for your kids to extend to that too. In addition to the firewood, you’ll need some form of tinder to get the fire started, there are a lot of options, but personally I almost always use paper.

Safety at every stage

Obviously we want to place a big emphasis on the potential dangers of fire and the need for safety precautions. Make sure that in having a shovel nearby for putting earth on the fire or a bucket of water for dousing it, you explain these steps in detail. Establishing fireside rules before you make the actual fire is strongly advised too (eg. no running around the fire, no removing burning sticks from the fire).

Making the fire

Once everything is in place, including the rules it’s time to make your fire. Probably you have your own system that you usually use. It probably looks something like this:

  1. Create a frame structure with some slightly bigger kindling
  2. Lean smaller pieces of kindling against this frame leaving some space underneath for air to circulate.
  3. Place your tinder on or under the kindling
  4. Light the tinder and blow gently to encourage it
  5. Once the kindling has started burning add more small pieces of fuel and gradually add larger pieces until the fire is the size you want.

Make it count

Once you’ve got a fire going, use it! Sing songs around it together. Cook marshmallows or sausages on it. Tell stories. Take pictures you can use to start conversations later and build treasured memories of family campfires.

Stop putting wood on the fire well in advance of the moment when you want to finish. When that moment comes, pour water carefully onto the embers to douse what’s left of the fire. Never leave a fire unattended.

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