Friday, January 22, 2010

Firem n' Chit (Campfires & Fire Safety) Plus Some Carving

During the last decade there has been a move in our 1-12 schools for kids to be in class all day long where hands-on programs like woodshop class and action oriented classes such as physical education have been cut from the curriculum. The reasons for such cuts can be debated in another forum but it has been a sad decade for many children who are now receiving less than a well balanced education.

Although the students in our alternative wilderness school also attend classes throughout the day, the bedrock of our unique approach to education has always placed a strong focus on actual student experience with a hands-on approach. It is our goal that every student will experience at least one 2-3 week canoe trip during their 10-12 month attendance and they have weekly exposure to a very strong hands-on woodshop program in additon to Boy Scout adventure education classes. We continue to believe that this aspect of our program in combination with all our teachers dedication, has an undeniably positive effect on our students overall educational experience and our test scores just recently re-enforced this.

Today I led three scouting classes on Firem n' Chit training which has a focus on safe fire usage while camping. The training is a lot of fun which also leads to some interesting conversations during the class and when students complete the course which is about three 50-minute classes they will receive certification cards and official 2nd Class Boy Scout credits.

As seen in the picture to the left the kids in today's classes were especially excited to be here and they were also at different levels in progress so I didn't have to teach the same skills twice. The first class is an introduction to camp fires which included about 30 minutes of class time so I end it with some physical fitness activities to meet my goal of a hands-on/action oriented activity in every class. The second class is composed of a lively discussion on low-impact camping techniques, a comparison and demonstration of a variety of camp stoves, and fire building techniques.

During the third class I lead the kids on a very exciting fire building contest so that they can put to practice their new skills. They are divided into teams of two and lined up on "pads" under a piece of binders twine that was about 16" off the ground. First team to burn the twine in half were the winners. Teams have to gather dry tender, kindling, and fuel wood then patiently stack it in such a way that it could get enough oxygen to ignite, then stay lit.

This activity creates a great challenge on snowy/rainy January days and the kids love it. During my demonstrations I emphasize that lighting a camp fire should only take one single match if they did everything correctly. In addition to new skills learned the students must also work together as a team to be successful. That means effective communication before and during the contest will be crucial for a chance at success.

One of my scouting classes today had already completed all of the required course requirements and their fire building contest was held last week. I therefore began the class with a thorough review of all the material covered. One of the most effective teaching techniques when working with kids is the power of repetition so I also asked lots of questions as I demonstrated how to build another one-match fire. This time a lot more hands were raised as their knowledge of the subject had obviously increased.

After a 15 minute review I then led a carving class around our small campfire. The day was somewhat damp and the air a little "nippy" so the fire provided some warmth for our fingers while also creating a warm atmosphere for an otherwise balmy day. Some of the kids worked on carving their spoons while others worked on small totem poles and a lot of progress was made. Since this class has successfully completed this sessions course requirements, next week I'll probably take them on a short hike into the woods for another fire building review while demonstrating a few new skills. Kids eat up this kind of stuff and the hands-on element of my classes is a perfect complement to their other scheduled classes thus giving them a more balanced approach to a successful educational experience.


  1. Dang Dave! I think you have more fun than most. Having fun and doing good things! It can't get much better.

  2. Thanks Tom. And yes, I probably do have more fun at my job than anyone should be allowed to have. Come to think of it I've always found a way to have fun and be productive even when I had less than desirable jobs. I guess it's just an attitude and the fact that life is so short and there's so much to accomplish.

    Also, I have found that most teachers choose this profession because first they are values-oriented people. Not a lot of money but we care a lot about what we're doing and despite the politics and office drama these teachers focus their complete energy on the kids. Nothing disturbs me more than a teacher who just assigns their students a worksheet with no heart, no dramatics, and apparently no desire to connect in a meaningful way.