Fire lighting is an essential part of any Forest School programme. It is always one of our most popular sessions – from campfires to campfire cooking; from fire lighting with a fire steel to lighting a fire by rubbing two sticks together. Making fire without matches is a very exciting experience for children and adults of any age. There is nothing more rewarding than listening to the squeals of delight, shouts of “I’ve done it” and the smell of burning fairy duvets, as the children master using a fire steel. On a beautiful sunny Spring evening this week, we ran a session on fire lighting for children aged 7-11 years.
We often start a fire lighting session by exploring the fire triangle. After making a simple triangle of sticks in front of us, we discuss the three elements that make fire; heat, fuel and oxygen. The children will then collect a natural object from the woods to represent each of the three elements in the triangle. For example, a feather represents oxygen, a piece of wood fuel and a bright red leaf heat. Our group today were all experts on the fire triangle so it was straight down to the business of producing fire!
Using a flint and steel, a fire steel, is probably the most reliable and practical way of making fire outdoors whatever the weather. In fact we have run fire lighting sessions in heavy rain and every child has managed to light their fairy duvet. A flint and steel is simply a steel striker which is scrapped along a rod ‘flint’ to produce a shower of white hot sparks. Over the years we have used various makes of fire steel with varying degrees of success. With children it is essential that they can produce a shower of sparks as soon as possible and we have found the cheaper the fire steel the less successful the children are! At the moment we are using a Swedish FireSteel 2.0 Scout Coco Shell. These work well no matter what the weather is. Both the striker and rod have handy thumb holes which mean the children have their hand in the correct position to flick the steel down the rod. They also have a built in emergency whistle which the children love!Fire safety equipment ready, check. After a quick demonstration, the children put on safety vests, collected a pair of gloves and were off to have a go. Each pair has a fire lighting kit. These consist of a simple canvas bags with a red triangle painted on it. These help children keep everything they need together in one place. In each bag is a fire steel and a supply of fairy duvets. You don’t need to rely on the local fairies to hang their duvets out to dry. The small cotton pads you use to take off make up look just like fairy duvets! One child has ago at lighting the fairy duvet, which they have nicely fluffed up, and the other child acts as the safety officer. Has the fire lighter tied back their hair? Are they wearing a scarf? Have they cleared a space where they are working? Are they near any other group? Are they kneeling in the respect position? In no time at all fairy duvets are on fire and the children are swapping their ideas for getting that perfect shower of sparks. Their best tips? Remember to flick the steel down the rod. Use the shiny side of the rod. Fluff up the duvet. Don’t give up!
One of our favourite quotes is “White man builds big fire and stands back. Indian builds small fire and huddles close”. With this in mind we move onto building small fires next. All year we collect birch bark and birch twigs. Frequently, on our way down to the woods, the children will collect all the fallen birch twigs, which we store in our shed in old dustbins. So we always have plenty of dry kindling for fires and the children will collect further supplies during the session. After another quick demonstration the children were building small fires and attempting to keep them going for 3 minutes. The importance of having everything ready is soon very apparent, as is the fact that putting a large piece of bark on a flame doesn’t help the flame to burn longer! However everyone successfully lights, and keeps their fire going. One of the fires even becomes a mini campfire. Everyone is very proud of their achievements and rightly so.
With everything carefully extinguished and the light fading, we return to school to celebrate our success by making fire sprites. These are simply made using a stick, a lump of clay and some natural materials. The clay is moulded onto the stick and then shaped into a head. Natural materials become eyes, ears, noses etc. Each fire sprite has its own personality and name and they are the perfect way to celebrate a brilliant fire lighting session. Well done to everyone who took part, may your fires always burn brightly.