The Allure of Fire

“At least one study suggests that if you take a population of boys between kindergarten and fourth grade, 60 percent of them have committed unsupervised fireplay, which is to say that fireplay is a common and absolutely normal part of human development.”
–“10-Year-Old With Matches Started a California Wildfire,” NY Times, 11/1/07.

Our kids have never lived in a house with a fireplace, but they have experienced a gas stove, candles, an old-fashioned oil lamp, and a fire in the fire ring in our backyard. They get their turn to snuff the candle after story time at daycare.

And of course, this year’s Lantern Walk included 6 fires, many luminaria and tiki torches, jack-o’lanterns, and candles in our house during the hours we had to have the lights off.

The morning after, we found evidence we hadn’t noticed before that one of the kids (I’m guessing SillyBilly) played with the candle we had lit that night in the bathroom. He would have been unattended for only a few moments, but Papa found a scorch mark on the toilet seat lid, and I found a tiny piece of what looked like burned paper in the sink.

It may be a “normal part of development,” but I wonder how do I impress on such a small person the possible repercussions? I’m not opposed to age-appropriate exploration that might result in a small, lesson-giving injury — as in how toddlers quickly learn that the stove is hot when they touch the oven door, or a child swallowing some water while learning to swim. But actually playing with fire is so much more…serious.

We certainly keep matches away from the kids, and I don’t think they have any overly intense interest in fire since they see it fairly often. And I think it should be regarded the same way we do guns: fire is a useful tool that needs to be respected, and certainly is not a toy.

Now all I need is a way to explain this so that the little ones can understand…



Filed under Nature, Parenting

5 responses to “The Allure of Fire

  1. Anonymous

    Fire is one of Nature’s elements, like rain water, snow, earth, air, etc. Nature’s elements are a gift from God. We don’t mess with gifts from God.



  2. Henitsirk

    Nana, are you saying that that’s what I should say to the kids about fire? I’m not sure that would work, because then what do I do when they want to play with the snow???

    Or is that just another pearl of deep Nana wisdom?

  3. Anonymous

    Playing in the snow or rain is fun!
    So is flying a kite on a windy day or swimming. These are not dangerous activities and don’t hurt us.
    Going out into a blizzard or a hurricane, or swimming with the sharks is not fun! These are dangerous activities and do hurt us.
    A fireplace can give us warmth and does not hurt us, but playing with fire is dangerous and does hurt us.

    My brilliant grandson will understand the concept.

    Trust me,


  4. healingmagichands

    I don’t know why you can’t show Billy pictures of the wildfires in CA and explain to him why playing with such a dangerous and uncontrollable element is not a good idea.

    My mother had a way of dealing with it that may or may not be available to you. When we got fascinated with fire, it became our job to light the fire in the stove up at picnic rock for oru summer cook outs. Also, we spent lots of time in the back yard practicing the Boy Scout method of building a fire using only ONE match to light it, including preparing tinder, building a fire circle, etc.

  5. Henitsirk

    Nana, I’m sure you’re right.

    HMH: That’s essentially what we talked about doing…having him be the one to light a fire in the fire ring in the backyard. I’m just not sure he’s old enough yet. Maybe I could tell him about the little boy who started one of the CA fires, but it might be too abstract for him still.

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