Back by popular demand. (Originally posted August 2009)
The other night, during a neighborhood yard party, the kids started a fire and I was pretty happy about it. Really!
Fire is a dangerous and potentially fatal force, but it is undeniably mesmerizing to kids. They all seem to play with matches at one time or another, and that easily strikes fear in the heart of every parent. So, I was shocked to read a while ago that fire was an important part of a healthy childhood play experience.
In spite of that knowledge, when I first smelled smoke at our party I was pretty freaked out. But, instead of dousing the fire with water, my calm husband simply moved the kids (and the fire) from the driveway over to the backyard fire pit. There, under the supervision of several adults, they built a real fire. I was still in the front yard when seven-year-old Rhett came up to me, eyes wide with wonder and awe, “We built the BIGGEST fire ever!” I decided then and there that those in charge needed checking on. I was prepared to scold the attending grown-ups, but instead, as I watched the children, I was amazed by how responsible they were. Under the guise of great, naughty fun, they were learning of the power of fire and the responsibility required when one is near it. They also learned that you cannot roast marshmallow fluff on a stick.
By the end of the wonderful night the stack of kindling that was to last us most of the winter was almost gone. And, the kids, still giggling with excitement, had all learned some valuable lessons....as had I.
Perhaps our society is too cautious. Learning to assess risk is a very important lesson of childhood, and we can be so terrified of accidents that we over-protect our kids. But, sometimes, by being overly protective, we rob our children of valuable information, and opportunities of earning great self-confidence. I still remember vividly at age 6 being stuck on the side of a mountain for an hour before I figured out how to get down. (OK, it was more of a hill, but it was a really steep hill.) I was so proud of myself for having conquered the terrible height.
So, next time your kids want to play with fire, stop, breathe, relax, and help them do it. Just be sure that when the inevitable request comes, that you use real marshmallows!