We are starting to get excited about our upcoming term three Bush Inventors’ Club (After School Program)! A favourite amongst children and playworkers alike, this term centers on learning to create, care for, and cook with fire. When founded on the three pillars of respect (respect for self, others, and the environment), teaching fire provides a fantastic catalyst for the development of perseverance, patience, teamwork, nature connection, responsibility, community and survival skills. We are always delighted to watch the confidence and maturity of the group grow across the term, as they develop into capable ‘fire keepers’, mentors and cooks. Over the years we have discovered that all elements of the sessions, from the collection of tinder to extinguishing the fire, provide different and valuable learning outcomes.
After a long day inside at school, the Bush Inventors arrive full of joy to be outdoors. We harness this energy, leading exploration into the surrounding bushland in search of kindling for our fire. We need three types of sticks; thumb thickness, pencil thickness, and pencil lead thickness. The pencil lead is essential to lighting the fire, but the trickiest to find amongst the leaves and dirt on the ground. At first, some members of the group will be reticent, complaining that there isn’t any and that the task is impossible!
Seeing this as an opportunity for mentorship, we challenge the kids to sit down with us, right where we are. Looking carefully, we begin to pick up the thin sticks we can see camouflaged against the dirt. Amazed we found sticks where they thought there were none, they will sit with us, picking through the dirt as we race to collect a handful. Like that, the simple task of collecting sticks becomes a core routine of nature connection, expanding the senses. The children begin to pay full attention, stretching their sensory awareness to spy even the tiniest of twigs.
Once materials have been collected and stashed near the fire, the group congregates to begin construction. Jute string is handed around and the Bush Inventors unwind its threads and fluff it out. This is a technical task, but a joyful one! Unwinding the string develops skills far beyond the initial application. Co-ordinating hands engages both hemispheres of the brain, developing proprioception and bilateral asymmetrical integration. The most effective way to unwind the string is to work with a partner, so the kids work closely together developing their teamwork and collaboration. There is always a feeling of pride amongst the group when we see the big ball of fluff we made and this shared achievement brings the group together.
Each week we learn a new method for constructing the fire, always through a story. Instead of placing sticks in a square with kindling and bark on top, we make a bed, with a fluffy pillow of jute string and a bark and twig blanket. Instead of stacking sticks into a box, we build a log cabin and fill it with kindling furniture. Through storytelling, these methods are made relevant, interesting, and memorable. Weeks later, the children will recall the method from the first week, comparing its performance to subsequent sessions. They will know which fire is best for marshmallows, and which one has enough coals to bake their cakes. We listen to the stories, and we learn without even realising.
We don’t use matches to light our fires, instead, we use a fire steel. Engaging in the tricky act of lighting a fire without a match allows us to practice another of the core routines of nature connection, ‘survival living’. In the first week of the term, the group fire is lit by one of our playworkers who demonstrates the technique and safety considerations of the tool. Everyone watches in awe as sparks fly off the steel, catching the kindling alight.
The children are then provided with a small colander, a fire steel, and some jute string to try for themselves. They quickly discover lighting fire is not as easy as it looks. Using a fire steel requires precision, confidence, and concentration. Despite this, we never cease to be amazed by the perseverance of the group. Some will spend the whole session sitting next to their colander striking the steel over and over with a playworker gently adjusting their technique. Once they get fire, the look of delight on their face is infectious, and the whole group will celebrate them and their accomplishment.
For most children, the challenge lies in confidence. They pull their hands away quickly, scared of the potential flames, directing the sparks into the side of the colander and not into the tinder. As they practice, they develop their fine-motor skills, and become more assured in the movement. We provide mentorship, demonstrating that once the spark lands, there is ample time to calmly move your hands away before it gets too hot. Eventually, they begin to become braver than the fear, and will confidently strike the sparks into the tinder, proud of their new-found ability, lighting a fire with ease.
Bush Inventors’ Club is multi-age, ranging from six through twelve-year-olds. We love this dynamic, as the older members of the group are able to develop their mentorship through taking on a leadership position. A highly coveted job at Bush Inventors is that of fire keeper. The fire keeper works with a playworker to tend to the fire, adding fuel as needed, as well as looking after the group’s safety when they are near the fire circle. The capability of the children shines through. Even the most excitable and energetic of our members are grounded, safely moving around the fire and looking out for their peers.
Many children are fearful of fire, which is understandable and often useful for protection. However, this fear can become dangerous when it causes them to make rash movements, putting bodies in harm’s way. Seeing the older children take on the fire keeper role so deftly is inspiring, and pushes the fearful children to develop their bravery and confront their fear. Some children start by just sitting next to a small colander fire, and finish the term confidently cooking on and tending to the large group fire.
“Our knee-jerk reaction to coddle and protect our children at all costs is unproductive. Instead, we need to recognize children’s desire to find their own way, have their own adventures, and kindle their own flames, as signs of their necessary independence and give them the tools that enable their selves to unfold.”David Sobel, Wild Play
Each week we cook something different on the fire to share and enjoy. The children take on full responsibility for the process; preparing, cooking and cleaning up the food. This group effort towards a shared goal fosters community, and soon everyone is sitting around the flames patiently waiting for the meal to cook. We often observe that our sessions feel like a village, or maybe a camping trip with friends, and this is one of those times. We tell stories and jokes, and reflect on the experiences we have shared. Fire is calming, and the energy of the group often settles. We have overheard students reflect “fire is hypnotising”, and we firmly agree! Sitting around the fire is a perfect reset from the high activity process of lighting the fire and preparing the food. Once cooked, we share our meal, rejoicing at the successes, and laughing together at the crazy concoctions.
Finally, we move on to a discussion about sustainability. We link back to our three pillars and discuss the importance of leaving areas as we found them. Usually, it will be suggested that we pour water on the fire, and this can lead to learning about the dangers of extinguishing with just water, as the steam can shoot up and burn us! A small group will work together to spread out the coals, cover them in sand, and carefully pour water on top. As we do this, we engage in gratitude, sharing with each other the people, actions and things that we have appreciated in the session. As the session comes to an end, the children leave happy and excited about what fire we might build and what food we might cook next week.
The process of teaching fire encompasses many of the experiences we value most. It nudges children outside of their comfort zone into an area of growth and skill development. The excitement fire generates allows us to mentor practices of deep nature connection, as well as teach survival skills without children feeling as though they have entered a classroom.
If you or your children are as excited about fire as us, we would love to see them at Bush Inventors’ Club in term three! Find out more and make a booking here.