In New Zealand, we are lucky to be a country with 4 distinct seasons. In summer our children become aware of the harshness of the New Zealand sun and the need to wear hats and sun screen. As the seasons progress, it is a time we can discuss and make clear the adventure of change, the natural rhythms of the earth and to observe all of nature around us. In Northland, we are particularly fortunate not to experience harsh winters, we can venture outside every day, yet we still need to wrap up warm at times! Over the last few weeks, we have noticed a definite cooling of our weather, of the arrival of some wintery crisp and chilly mornings. This is a perfect time to begin one of Mairtown’s winter rituals – Thursday fire day.
Obviously in the wrong hands fires are dangerous, so it is important to us, that we only progress with lightening our fires when the we feel the children are sufficiently ready. One way we do this is through lots of discussion, both in small and large groups. At our daily whānau times, and for many days prior to our fires starting we talk through what our fire days are like, (we even bring the unlit fire inside and practice) and of course what the rules are around fires, in order to keep ourselves safe.
Practising at whānau time
Our children soon become experts on the rules, telling me ‘no scarves or capes, and that means the teachers too, they may burn you as they blow into the fire…walking around the fire only and no being silly…no balls around the fire…you need to keep your feet outside the safety bubble, only the teachers can go in the safety bubble…and…you can’t go outside when the fire is lit until two teachers are there, you have to wait on the step until two teachers are there.’
We have been creating, lighting and cooking food on an outside fire for over 6 years at Mairtown, and we have seen first-hand the benefits in terms of social experiences and cognitive learning that fires can offer. There is something soothing and social about sitting around the fire on a cold day.
Preparing the fire
Fires create a sense of security and companionship at a very basis level of our humanity, and children should not be excluded from safely experiencing that warm glow (Sara Knight)
Building and preparing the fire ready for it to be lit is also a very important step in learning about fires. Each week the children delight in cleaning out the left overs embers and charcoal from the previous week, scrunching up newspaper and carefully laying kindling in the fire bowl ready for later. Naturally, it is not just the fire that needs preparing, the food we cook also be to be organised and planned. We cook many things over the winter season, but a firm favourite is our garlic and rosemary bread. The children help in the measuring and kneading of the dough and collect rosemary from our garden ready to be cut up and sprinkled in the garlic oil for flavouring.
There is a great deal of preparation on fire day and the children take charge. They arrive in the morning knowing what needs to be done. Collecting some friends, they begin. There is a sense of pride and ownership in their work, and there is lots of delight as they are finally rewarded with cooking their kai and enjoying eating it in the company of others.
The Early Childhood Council tell us that ‘fires can provide a wide range of learning for young children including: Science concepts – how heat changes objects; Cooking – with use of billies, pots, grills; Ethic of care in looking after your friends; Health and safety and how to manage risks, and, Working together as a collaborative community’. I would agree with this, but as I watch the children each week, see their knowledge and confidence grow I also know there is greater learning taking place. I see how building and preparing the fire builds independence and self-confidence. How cooking around the fire and discussing the rules with friends enables them to self-assess risk as well as developing group awareness and cooperation skills. How the simple act of just sitting and watching a fire enables conceptual knowledge about fires to develop, such as the effect of the heat on the wood and the way the wood changes with temperature. There is so much learning in just one relatively simple experience.
As humans, we have disconnected ourselves from nature and all its elements, we need to find a pathway back. [Fire]…gives us warmth, a sense of security, a source of fuel that can create and alter materials, such as dough into bread…or wood into charcoal (Claire Warden).
For us in the southern hemisphere, we are just at the beginning of out winter sesaon; we can look forward to many more fires at kindergarten and a lot more delicious food being cooked over the next couple of months.