Fire. The four-letter F word that is taboo to speak about in parenting. In science learning, children find fire just as interesting as water. So lets talk honestly about children and fire. Before we do, lets set the stage: lets be judgement free! My house has working fire alarms every 10 feet, batteries changed every year. We have yearly fire drills, keep the bedrooms door closed at night, set a muster point and each child knows 2 ways out of their bedrooms. The matches and lighters are hidden in child-proof places. We supervise all fire-related activities including candles, fireplace and firepit. Most parents will tell you that children are as fascinated by fire as they are with water, ice, dirt, rocks and metal. Fire is science and we empowered our children to learn about all the elements.
When I was 7, my brother and I were curious about fire. We waited until our parents were out for the evening and the babysitter was engaged in the TV show. We took a box of tissues, a pack of matches and headed to lock ourselves in the bathroom. We gleefully set every tissue on fire in the empty bathtub and watched the result with fascination. That babysitter never knew, but our parents found the remnants the next day (7 and 8 year olds don’t clean up very well!) and we were punished accordingly. However, our fascination with fire never waned. It just went underground.
I operate under the parenting theory of Forbidden Fruit Tastes the Sweetest. My children loved exploring the elements as all children do. They loved magnets, sand, mud, water and fire. We empowered them to play with all those elements except the last. Fire is fascinating to children and people. The hearth of warmth and the people gathered around it is the primary reason humans survived and evolved over millions of years. Fire is essential to our lives. As water is.
Both water and fire can be deadly and require respect. However, my children learn through hands-on experiences. With water, we supervised constantly and were an arms length away until the children were 10 years old and through us out of the bathroom. We did the same with fire. We empowered our children to experiment with fire-safely.
The kids called our fire pit – the Power Plant and would beg us regularly to let them play “Power Plant.” We supervised constantly. We showed them how to douse the different types of fire and had a hose and extinguisher readily available. We taught them what to wear such as no dangling sleeves. We watched the kids enjoy the experimentation – how a cheezie would burn, how fast paper catches fire, and what blowing air does to ignite a dying fire. They learned how fire starts, what keeps it going and how coals burn long after fire is doused. They learned what types of materials burned the fastest and slowest and what didn’t burn (foil). They learned the deadly properties of smoke and how it affects the human body.
Many times they wanted to play “power plant” but the timing didn’t work so we could supervise. We honoured their curiosity by putting a time on the calendar and being sure to make it happen. They honoured our concern for safety and didn’t try it on their own. Of course, they is age appropriate – we only began this about age 7, when they had a bit of frontal cortex brain development.
No, I wouldn’t let my kids try drugs in the name of exploring science, but experimenting with fire is different. None of them set fires outside the safety parameters we set up and they learned a lot of science in our studies. Not every parent is comfortable with what we did and that is okay, but we need to talk about it – children are curious and learning about science in a safe and supervised environment means that kids probably won’t do it on the sneak.
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