50 Dangerous Things: Play with Fire


Task:  Learn how to start a fire, and become aware of its risks and responsibilities.



  • Fire pit, ring, or barbecue
  • Water bucket
  • Firewood – various sizes of logs or wood cut to various widths
  • Kindling –  twigs, small sticks or wood chips
  • Tinder – crumpled paper or very dry leaves
  • Matches or lighter
  • Adult supervision

Possible Hazards:

  • Burns
  • Fire (!)
  • Property Damage

How It All Went Down:

The previous owners of our home were kind of enough to leave their fire pit behind … and along with it a backyard full of firewood, kindling and tinder.  The kids had been begging to make s’mores in the fire pit, and I saw it as a perfect opportunity for them to learn about making a fire.  You have to earn your s’mores in this family.

Since wood, wind and weather conditions, and burning vessels are so varied, no two fires will ever be the same.  Use the following as general guidelines.  Fires can produce a lot of smoke, so make sure your neighbors (if you’re in the ‘burbs like us) are okay with this.  Keep buckets of water handy for dousing out the fire.

Play With Fire via The Risky Kids

Step 1:

Observe the conditions around you.  Determine what direction the wind is coming from.  This determines the front of the fire (upwind side) and back of the fire (downwind side).

Step 2:

Lay your foundation.  Select a large piece of wood with a flat side and set it at the back of your fire ring.  This will reflect heat and protect the fire from wind.

Play With Fire via The Risky Kids

Step 3:

Assemble your starter.  Place tinder at the base of the large piece of wood.  Lay kindling on top and place smaller logs on either side of the kindling, leaning against the large piece of wood.

Step 4:

Stockpile medium-sized sticks to feed the fire until the larger logs ignite.

Play With Fire via The Risky Kids

Step 5:

Light the bottom edges of the tinder.  If it’s too wet, it won’t light.  If they’re damp, you may be able to blow on them to get them to “catch.”  Lighting from the bottom works with fire’s natural tendency to burn up instead of down.

Step 6:

As your kindling starts to burn, feed the fire with the medium-sized sticks.  Don’t add too many too soon, or you can inadvertently put the fire out.

Play With Fire via The Risky Kids

Step 7:

Maintain your fire by poking and nudging logs together as they burn, minimizing the number of logs you need to add to the fire.  Make and eat your s’mores!

Play With Fire via The Risky Kids

Step 8:

Extinguish.  When you’re done with the fire, pour water all over the fire.  It’s important to stir the ash around and add more water as needed.  If not, dry pockets can remain and reignite.  Repeat this process until all parts of the fire are cool to the touch.

This ended up being a learning experience for all of us.  For one, I never knew the difference between firewood, kindling and tinder.  I didn’t grow up in an outdoorsy family, so making and watching over a fire wasn’t anything I ever learned.  In the process, all of us learned not only how to start a fire, but the importance of watching over it and the taking responsibility for it until it is completely out.  We joke about doing “risky” things, but for the first time on this journey, we felt like we were doing something that actually had the potential to be dangerous.

Fire is fascinating for kids.  Beyond melting marshmallows in it, they love to watch it, poke it, and add things to it.  As Mr. Tulley points out in the book, fire is “a laboratory and an invitation to explore.”   Building a fire is one of those skills that our generation has strayed away from, but is an important tool to know and understand.  And because it naturally attracts the attention of children, it’s imperative that we teach kids how to use and behave around fire.  Having experience with fire under the supervision of adults makes it less likely that they’ll ever do anything truly risky with fire on their own.

You can read about the rest of our experiences with 50 Dangerous Things. Inspired by Gever Tulley’s book 50 Dangerous Things (You Should Let Your Children Do).



  1. […] a fire:  If the kids are old enough, teach them how.  If they’re too young, let them fetch the sticks.  Either way, reward their hard work with […]