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children learning firelighting skills

LETTING YOUR CHILD PLAY WITH FIRE

Would you let your child play with fire? It seems to be wired into us from a young age that fire is not something to mess around with, but where’s the fun in that? Of course, fire can be dangerous but if we introduce our children to it using safe methods we can nurture a healthy respect for the hazards of fire alongside their natural wonder for it.

Here’s the thing, children LOVE playing with fire – so we might as well teach them how to play with it safely and how to be responsible when lighting their own fires out in the woods. We’ve never had a burn injury at our Forest School sessions. We have established boundaries for the main campfire and clear rules on what kids can and cannot do with their own fires.

In this episode of our vlog Rewild My Child you can see our regular Young Rangers lighting their own fires and passing on some of what they’ve learned.

YOU CAN WATCH THIS EPISODE OF OUR VLOG RIGHT HERE…

I find it so encouraging to see how far these children have come with their firelighting skills and knowledge of camp craft. It’s very satisfying (as a teacher) to see them gathering enough kindling to start their fire, picking out dry sticks rather than wet, soggy ones and to see how they can rekindle a struggling fire using the right techniques. These children love lighting fires and are happy simply to let them blaze away  – I’ve never seen a child trying to burn the woods down. They might make smoke signals, make charcoals for drawing or simply poke away at the embers with burning sticks. The fire acts as a warming and comforting focal point for the group to be together, enjoying nature. This has been the role of campfires for generations and long may it continue.

If you liked this and want to see more – check out our YouTube Channel, where we have a whole host of videos from How To Make Wild Teas to How To Use An Axe With Kids.

why kids should use axes

Why I would buy my kids an AXE

At a time when many children are being wrapped up in too much cotton wool (not literally) to keep them safe from the perceived hazards of modern life, I’ve become more and more a champion of allowing the children I look after (at Forest School sessions) to take risks and show they can be responsible for managing their own safety. So, with that in mind, we’ve been chopping firewood together, using a very sharp axe, and here’s a little video which shows you how I teach those basic axe skills to kids. I’d encourage you to try it for yourself.

Autumn has definitely arrived here in the UK and with the long, dark and cold nights closing in my mind’s turned to getting some firewood in. Yes, like many others I’ve left it late again. It’s always good to have some help with tasks like this and I’ve found that chopping firewood is an effective and simple activity for kids to get stuck into as well as a great introduction to the axe. Kids can understand the task and (most folks agree) splitting logs is very satisfying to do. So what about giving a razor sharp axe to a child? Well, here’s what the children’s author Roald Dahl had to say about risk;

“…the more risks you allow children to take, the better they learn to take care of themselves. If you never let them take any risks, then I believe they become very prone to injury. Boys should be allowed to climb tall trees and walk along the tops of high walls and dive into the sea from high rocks… The same with girls. I like the type of child who takes risks. Better by far than the one who never does so.”

Mabli (one of our regular Young Rangers) is just six years old and it was really encouraging to see her progress recently from using the potato peeler (which we give to kids first to practice their knife technique) to using a proper whittling knife. She was confident, calm and sensible with the tool, which I like to think she learnt through clear mentoring, encouragement and close supervision. There’s a voice in my head which jostles for centre stage telling me that there’s going to be a terrible accident and that it would be better to just let kids like Mabli play at something safer. But of course, children are just like us, they don’t want to hurt themselves, so along with a good mentor (like any parent), they’re their own regulator.

teaching children to use an axe

Anyway, back to the axe and chopping wood. I think this is a great introductory activity for kids to sharp tools as with an axe you have a fair distance between the sharp edge and little fingers. Also, whoever heard of such a thing as an ugly piece of firewood? So, no fine craft skills are required. You could even follow wood chopping with learning fire-lighting so that they get to burn what they’ve chopped themselves. I’ll give the last word on ‘risk’ to Richard Louv, author of the fantastic book Last Child in the Woods;

“An indoor (or backseat) childhood does reduce some dangers to children; but other risks are heightened, including risks to physical and psychological health, risk to children’s concept and perception of community, risk to self-confidence and the ability to discern true danger.”

So, would you use sharp tools with your own kids at home? Have you had success with whittling, wood chopping or using a saw with little ones? We’d love to hear from you.

If you enjoyed this video, we’ve got MORE videos on our YouTube channel giving you ideas for engaging kids in the great outdoors. You can find it by clicking HERE.

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