Building a campfire with your kids is a fun and exciting way to spend time outdoors as a family. But how do you do it safely?
Both of our boys have always loved camping, so over the last few years we’ve spent endless hours toasting marshmallows and telling stories around campfires.
And it isn’t just a summer activity for us. Once the clocks go back and winter arrives, the long nights and extra hours of darkness give us plenty of chances to have campfires in our garden too.
But as great an activity as this is to do with your family, there are also plenty of things to think about in terms of fire safety and teaching kids to build campfires properly.
So whether you decide to build a campfire with your kids on a campsite, in the wild, or in your own back garden, here are some tips we’ve learned over the last few years…
Start with a firepit
You should never build a campfire on open ground because of the risk of it spreading, so make sure you do it in a designated fire pit. Many campsites have firepits on their pitches, but if they don’t you need to bring your own. If you’re planning a campfire in your garden, you can either buy a firepit that raises your fire off the ground, or build your own by digging a pit and surrounding it with stones.
Gather your wood
You need dry wood for your fire, so never cut branches from trees because live wood won’t burn and you’ll also be damaging the woodland and ruining animal habitats. There are three main types of wood you need to gather from the ground:
Tinder: Small twigs, dry leaves, dry grass
Kindling: Small twigs that will light from the tinder
Logs: Larger pieces of wood. Keep stacked upwind, away from the fire.
Place a few handfuls of tinder or scrunched-up paper in the centre of the fire pit, or buy some natural firelighters before your trip. This will be the part of the campfire you light.
Stack your kindling
There are a few different ways to build the frame of your campfire, with most people opting for either a teepee, lean-to, log cabin or crisscross style. We usually go for a teepee style (pictured below), where you lay the kindling over the tinder as if you’re building a tent.
Ignite the tinder
Using a match or lighter, ignite the tinder. If you’ve used a match, wait for it to cool then throw it into the fire.
Add tinder as the fire grows
Just because the fire is lit doesn’t mean it will stay lit, so always have a stash of tinder ready to add to the flame to keep it growing. Your goal here is to ignite the kindling from the tinder, so keep adding more until that happens.
Add some larger sticks
As the flame grows and the fire starts to establish, add more kindling, then larger sticks and logs to keep it going. Once the larger sticks and logs start to burn properly, you no longer need to add tinder.
Keep the fire small
When you build a campfire with your kids, expect them to get excited and want you to keep making it bigger. But not only are bigger flames risky for children, they can also make the fire get out of control and spread. Keep it small, simple, and safe.
Supervise kids carefully
Last week I pretty much had to restrain my 2-year-old from running into the flames of our garden campfire. Young children are often drawn to fire and mostly unaware of its dangers, so keep them very carefully supervised at all times and a safe distance away from the flames.
Toast some marshmallows
A campfire isn’t a proper campfire without toasting marshmallows on a stick. Prepare a few long sticks before you light your fire, sharpen the ends, skewer a marshmallow, crisp the edges in the flame, wait for it to cool, and you’ve got the perfect fireside snack.
Put the fire out safely
You should never leave a fire when it’s still burning. Remember this simple rule: if it’s too hot to touch, it’s too hot to leave. Let the fire burn down to ash, then pour water on it until the hissing stops. If you don’t have water, spread out the embers with a stick and mix in some dirt.
For more tips on how to safely build a campfire with your kids, visit the excellent Smokey Bear website.