Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Science Club - Fire

Testing how hot the flame is from the side

Every other week my children and I drive for an hour to a friend's farm for science club. All the children are homeschooled and there is one group for the older children (6+) and one for the younger ones (3+). Today the younger children's faces were alight, their mouths round little oh's of awe. The older children were deep in concentration and full of questions. All of this while they experimented with fire.
As young children ourselves we all heard the words playing with fire is dangerous. Particularly if you grew up in the UK you'll remember the adverts and safety sessions surrounding Bonfire Night and the use of fireworks and sparklers. Sometimes this can make us justifiably nervous about allowing our children near flames, matches, candles and fires. And yet, fire is part of our DNA, it's part of our humanity, the beginning of our civilisation. Would we stand where we do now if our prehistoric ancestors hadn't learnt to keep the flame alive and eventually how to start one themselves? According to many historians, the discovery of fire was what permitted humans to become fully sentient beings because it freed them from the immediate threat of wild animals and the constant worry of keeping warm enough. Some scientists even believe the discovery of fire is what made us human. In any case it undeniably fascinates children. 

In our home our children have lit candles with us as well as learning about fire laying. Both are daily tasks over the winter. We've also discussed and continue to discuss fire safety, what to do in the event of a fire and the Stop, Drop, Roll technique if you catch fire yourself (Check out this website for kid friendly info). But that's been the extent of our explorations and they were clearly hungry for more. 

They are curious about fire and how it works and when children are curious about something, it's my experience that they will inevitably find a way to explore this curiousity with or without our help. In the case of fire, I definitely prefer it to be with. It seems to me that in this instance there is a great argument for fulfilling our children's need to explore and understand together rather than trying to protect them by forbidding something until we decide they are 'big enough'. That's why I was delighted when we got to science club today and discovered they were going to explore the properties of fire. Here was an opportunity for them to get some answers in a safe environment.

Relighting a match without touching the flame

During the workshop, they were able to experiment in ways we wouldn't feel comfortable at home. Their teacher is trained in health and safety and has a lot of experience doing this kind of thing with kids. He had everything necessary to put out the flames if needed as well as the right kind of attitude. They were able to experiment lighting a candle, setting a baton on fire with the flame, what happens when you put a candle in water and cover it, as well as how the hot air above a flame creates movement. And that was just the younger kids. They all came away with some important fire safety rules, the beginnings of an understanding about how fire works and the knowledge that wood can set on fire when it gets very hot even without touching a flame.

And it turns...

and turns...

Although fire building for example is common in some schools in Germany and some of the forest camp movements I doubt it's made its way onto the national curriculum in many countries. And yet. Fire is what got us where we are today and I can't help feeling that understanding how it works and how to manage it safely will never cease to be an important skill for our species. I am really grateful that our science club provided us with a safe space to learn more and see this element and the rules that dictate it's behavior in action.

** This seems obvious but please be careful if you decide to try any of these kind of experiments yourself. One of the reasons I was so glad to do this kind of thing in a workshop setting is that it meant we were at least 6 adults to keep an eye on any safety issues.

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