The good news: the two fire-making sessions went very well. I felt that all the children engaged positively with the activities pretty much throughout. Six or seven parents emailed me afterwards to say how much their child enjoyed the evening. I don’t think they were just being polite. One pioneer apparently told their mum the session was ‘awesome’ – I guess praise doesn’t come much higher than that!
I am being neither modest nor immodest when I say that this level of engagement is not common, in my experience. As any Woodcraft Folk volunteer will tell you, pioneer groups are the hardest to run. They span the full spread of childhood personalities, from shy wallflowers to boisterous, hormonal near-teenagers.
The other good news: no injuries or adverse incidents, apart from a few cases of coughing, spluttering and teary eyes from the smoke. (Note to self: have cups of water handy next time.) One of the fire steels fell apart, but luckily we had a spare, and thanks to some super glue it is now as good as new.
Of course, we wouldn’t do activities like these if we were not confident that the risks would be outweighed by the benefits, as Martin Maudsley pointed out in his comment on Part 1 of this post. Nonetheless I am pleased to say that this confidence was borne out. On the basis of this sample size of 27, few urban children have ever tried to conjure up a fire from scratch (pardon the pun) even in comparatively outdoorsy families – but when they do, surprise surprise, they lap up the experience.
I am interested in Martin’s suggestion that risk benefit assessment is something that could or should be carried out with the group. At first this seems like an unconditionally good idea. On balance I think it probably is, and will try it next time. My only doubt is that perhaps doing this may switch on children’s ‘risk antennae’ to such a degree that their natural responses are inhibited. What do you think – is there a danger that getting children to do risk benefit assessments will lead them to be over-cautious? Or is it a great way to develop their own risk management skills?