Fair   72.0F  |  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

Mushroom Recipes for a Family Meal

Mushroom Recipes for a Family Meal

Mushrooms can be a tough sell with picky eaters but these dishes will entice them to try a bite – or two!

Tennessee Law Prevents Parents from Giving Child a Hybrid Last Name

Tennessee Law Prevents Parents from Giving Child a Hybrid Last Name

Carl Abramson and Kim Sarubbi mashed together their surnames for their first two kids, but Tennessee law says they can't use the last name 'Sabr' for baby No. 3.

Sticky Fingers Duct Tape Book Offers Easy Bow Making How-To

Sticky Fingers Duct Tape Book Offers Easy Bow Making How-To

Sophie Maletsky's new guide, published by Zest Books, is packed with fun crafts and DIY ideas kids and families can make out of colorful duct tape.

Paper Craft Fun with Handprints, Garland and Kawaii Art

Paper Craft Fun with Handprints, Garland and Kawaii Art

This versatile craft material transforms into an acorn fall creation, decorative ribbon, cute Japanese critters and cool dividers for your kid's closet.

How to Prevent Your Child from Choking

How to Prevent Your Child from Choking

Mealtime can turn from pleasant to panic in a matter of seconds. Protect your child from this mishap with our list of dos and don’ts.

YouTube Moms Parody Iggy Azalea's Hit Song 'Fancy'

YouTube Moms Parody Iggy Azalea's Hit Song 'Fancy'

The rapper's had the hit of the summer, but these clever mothers made it their own, riffing on pregnancy and motherhood in some pretty funny viral videos.

Biscuit Recipes: From Classic to Chocolate

Biscuit Recipes: From Classic to Chocolate

September is National Biscuit Month, but you can bake these any time! These recipes, including classic biscuits from Betty Crocker and cornmeal biscuits from Martha Stewart, will have you reaching...

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement