Every Friday, we have a home school field day. After finishing the basics, math, spelling, and reading, we move outside and work on our survival skills. This last week our focus was on winter fire building and just how much wood it takes to keep a fire lit. My kids are constantly amazed that the piles of sticks they work to collect disappear so quickly, I intentionally burn a hot fire to show them that they will always need to collect more wood than they think they need, especially to make it through a night.
Our fire building consists of foraged tinder and is started with a ferro rod and steel. Fire building (and fire safety) is a primary skill I have focused on with my kids. I think that often, with tools and novelties like fire, they are most dangerous when not understood. I want to give my kids the skills needed to effectively build a fire, sustain it, and keep it safe and confined. If a child can see what fire can do, I think they are less likely to abuse it with curiosity and treat it like a toy. My kids have seen the charred wreckage of my childhood best friends’ farm and they know first hand what a little bit of fire can do! I hope that these weekly lessons are teaching them responsibility.
We talked about location for a fire, especially since it was a very windy day, we set up in the base of a valley on a flat spot that was nicely out of the wind but also not in a runoff section where we could get flooded out. The kids collected bark for tinder and I showed them how I like to shave off pieces of birch bark into a nest of ceder bark and have it all sitting on a large strip of birch to keep it off the wet ground and also allow for me to hold it while I blow on the sparks. Winter fire starting can hold a special challenge because there is water everywhere, but is also easier in some ways because most bark that is off the ground is very dry. We usually have a fire started with only a few strikes on ferro rod because the amount and quality of tinder and kindling my kids have been taught to gather is effective.
One of my main lines of instruction to them is that preparation is never wasted time: the more we prepare, the more likely our success in the field will be.
When we studied the Civil War last year, we read a quote from Abraham Lincoln that said “if you give me six hours to cut down a tree, I will spend the first hour sharpening the axe”. Now the funny thing about history is that if you look up that quote, you will find every variation in time and wording possible. Everything from 1-9 hours to cut down the tree and 45 minutes to 6 hours sharpening the axe! Craziness that even a quote is subjective to the writers of history. Still, the main point of the quote remains the same: spend time aptly preparing and you will do better work.
My older girls made us some Phoenician flat bread (we are studying ancient history) to eat around the fire. We brought out some bone broth from our whole chicken the day before and heated it over the fire. The kids enjoyed the smoky flavor and decided broth tastes best when cooked this way! I enjoy sharing my love of the outdoors and survival skills with my kids and I am so happy that they enjoy it to. Survival Friday is their favorite part of the week!