Fair   80.0F  |  Forecast »

How to Build a Campfire, Tips to Teach Kids

Blaze a new trail for your kids by teaching them this classic outdoor skill, from safety to creating the perfect pyramid, all the way to putting it out.

Lighting a campfire sparks warm memories for Chris Gay of Allen Park. Many have taken place out in the starlit woods with her family, toasting marshmallows and swapping stories.

"It's the bonding," says Gay, who, for over 20 years, was a Girl Scout leader and camp volunteer in southeast Michigan. "It's a nice time to sit around, sing songs, tell stories. You just chitchat and enjoy."

She's taught the skill to hundreds of local girls – including hers, who are now in their late 20s. At the metro Detroit council's Camp Innisfree near Howell, where she served as summer assistant director, Gay trained the counselors who show fifth-grade girls how to create basic "A-frame" fires. So she knows a thing or two about making a fire!

Even if you're not out in the woods all that often, with proper guidance, campfire building can be a great lesson for kids in fire respect and caution, Gay says. At very least, it's a handy barbecue back-up plan if the lighter fluid runs out – and a way to build family memories of your own.

1. 'Ground' rules.

At any age, safety is lesson No. 1. "You don't play around the campfire," Gay says. "You don't run. You don't pass things around." Clothing should be fitted; no hoodies with loose strings, or nylon, which is highly flammable. The ground itself is important, too: Within three to four feet of a campsite fire pit, rake away any leaves and branches, which stray cinders could ignite.

This distance also is where chairs or benches should be placed – and, Gay adds, make it clear, "The only time they come up to (the fire) is for cooking." Remove old coals, clean off cooking grates and always have a bucket of water nearby.

2. Wood gathering.

Next, scour the forest floor for branches. Even toddlers can help collect the three types of fallen bramble: "tinder," or tiny pieces as skinny as toothpicks and 3 to 8 inches long; "kindling," about the width of a pencil and also 3 to 8 inches in length; and "fuel," as thick as a wrist and roughly a foot long.

"In Girl Scouting, we basically use what Mother Nature provides," says Gay, who doesn't use lighter fluid. She also nixes crumpled newspaper, since it's light and often floats away from the fire – which could catch a nearby tree or child.

Good burning wood must be dry, she adds. Test pieces by breaking off a small bit and listening for a crisp snap. And watch out for sap, says Gene Navilys, who has served a Boy Scout master with Troop 1318 in Detroit. When one of his boys once picked up a sticky stick, Navilys tossed a piece of it into the flame for a startling demo: "He was very surprised to find out that wood exploded!" Place all that firewood into separate piles in a "staging area" that's a safe distance from your pit.

3. Building the frame.

Stacking wood into structure can get tricky. So, with beginners, Gay teaches a simple "A-frame" method. Take two pieces of "fuel" and lay them flat on the ground, into a "V." Place a third piece of "fuel" across the other two, to form a capital "A." This "crossbar" should face toward the wind. Next, arrange kindling in the top portion of the "A": Each piece should lean diagonally from the ground up onto the crossbar. In the same fashion, lean the tinder on top of the kindling.

4. Ignition!

Age 11 or 12: That's the earliest kids should attempt striking a match, Gay and Navilys agree. "Again, stress proper supervision," says Gay. Avoid matchbooks, which are small and flimsy, and opt for longer, sturdier wooden kitchen matches (the "strike anywhere" type, available at hardware stores, are a extra-easy alternative, Navilys notes). Always instruct kids to strike the match away from their bodies. Once the match lights, hold it to the "underside" of the leaning kindling until it catches; then, let it drop.

5. Tending the blaze.

No crackling fire is complete without a few campfire songs, s'mores – and a "monitoring stick." Hardy and 3- to 4-feet long, it's used to push in branches and twigs that fall from the main flame, Gay says. Keep an eye on any red-glowing flyaway embers; they'll often "die" on their own, but might need a quick shoe stomp. If the fire dwindles, slowly feed in additional fuel – close to the ground and at a safe, arm's length distance – until the ends catch fire, Navilys says.

6. Dousing.

Extinguishing your campfire is perhaps one of the most important safety steps of all. "Please, don't take the bucket (of water) and throw it on," Gay cautions; that'll just end in thick plumes of smoke. Instead, flatten the fire as much as possible with the monitoring stick. Then, carefully pour on water until you feel no heat when hovering your hand about an inch above the coals.

Old to new | New to old
Oct 12, 2012 04:21 pm
 Posted by  jennorkevin

Chris Gay a.k.a. mom taught me how to make my fires, and I am now an all natural - 1 match fire starter! :-) Great article! It sure does make me miss summer camp!

-Kevin

Jul 31, 2013 01:32 am
 Posted by  caroline

Thanks for the great tips and instructions for campfire building and safety. I'm linking to this for my list of Free Activities for Kids over at InChartreuseBoots.com.

Add your comment:
Advertisement

More »Latest Articles & Blog Posts

Extreme Parenting Styles Rule on New Bravo TV Series

Extreme Parenting Styles Rule on New Bravo TV Series

Set your DVR for the latest reality show that introduces you to nine different families with very unique – can we say cuckoo? – parenting styles.

Benefits of Breast-feeding for Mom and Baby

Benefits of Breast-feeding for Mom and Baby

An expert weighs in on the advantages of breast-feeding and tips on how to make it work for you – just in time National Breast-feeding Month in August.

Baked Peach Recipes for Dessert

Baked Peach Recipes for Dessert

Sweet and juicy peaches bake up beautifully in these recipes, which include classic peach crisp, peach drop cookies and more.

Capturing Memories with Project Life by Stampin' Up

Capturing Memories with Project Life by Stampin' Up

Looking for an easier way to save and display your family memories and keepsakes? This kit has what you need to make scrapbook journaling lots of fun.

Local Sixth Grader Sings National Anthem For Tiger Fans

Local Sixth Grader Sings National Anthem For Tiger Fans

On Sunday, Aug. 3, 2014, a Northville tween will show off her singing talents in front of a packed stadium at Comerica Park in Detroit.

Passport Rules for Kids

Passport Rules for Kids

If you're planning on traveling with your family outside of the country, they'll need a passport. Find out what you need and how to get passports for children.

Tips for Saving Cash on Flights

Tips for Saving Cash on Flights

Find out how your family can save money when flying abroad and in the country.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement