In March I announced that we’d be starting a new series on The Risky Kids: Life Skills Every Kid Should Know. The response was wonderful – it turns out you agree that there are many things kids need to know beyond what they’re taught in school. You agreed with our suggestions for the series, and came up with many more life skills you’d like to see added to the list. You can find posts from the entire series on the Life Skills Every Kid Should Know page.
If I had to pick the top two Dangerous Things that freak parents out the most, it would be letting kids use sharp objects and anything involving fire. I completely understand. They both evoke images of immediate and life-altering injuries. And in the case of fire, of burning down the house … or the entire neighborhood.
It’s precisely because skills like these are inherently dangerous, that I passionately believe they should be taught at an early age. With the proper instruction and supervision, kids learn a healthy respect for these tools. And with early and frequent exposure, the thrill and mystique of fire or knives wears off. It becomes simply a useful skill they possess, as opposed to something mysterious and forbidden which they can’t resist the urge to explore in secret.
Learning to build a proper fire was something I was never taught. We didn’t camp or have bonfires as a kid, and so the only experience I ever had was lighting a candle. I’ve never even owned a charcoal grill (!), so my experience with building any kind of fire was very limited. When it came time to put our fire-building skills to the test, I was learning right along with the kids.
You might think there’s nothing to it, but there is definitely a method to building a good, lasting fire. I could explain it (which I did here), but this infographic from NPR’s Summer Science does a spot-on job:
Credit: Stephanie d’Otreppe, Andrew Prince and Maggie Starbard/NPR
When we build a fire in our firepit, we often have lots of other kids running around. There’s nothing like an open flame and the possibility of roasted marshmallows to bring all the kids to your yard. It’s such a valuable opportunity for real-time teachable moments in regards to fire safety. We teach things like having only one person in charge of the fire (and at the same time making sure there’s always someone in charge of the fire), what you can and cannot put in a fire, how you move around a fire (no running or horseplay), and how to put the fire completely out.
Chances are you’ll never need to know how to build a fire for survival purposes. I have to say, though, even as an adult there is a strong sense of pride and accomplishment at being able to make fire from a match and a few sticks. If that’s not enough to stoke your interest in learning and teaching this skill to your kids, just remember the ultimate payout: