Fire: The Only Element We Can Create
When you light a fire, you commit an act of magic…what thrilling enchantment, what cunning sorcery has the work of your hands created?”- Anthony Murphy
As we come closer to the winter solstice here in the northern hemisphere, we feel the temperature shift as the days shorten and the air becomes quite brisk and chilly. At Aishling Forest School, we strive to honor the natural cycles of the seasons, as well as honor the natural rhythm our ancestors lived by. Naturally, as the days become colder we focus our classes more and more on fire keeping, fire safety, and cooking over the fire. This past week we took the knowledge from weeks of our practice “Fairy fires” and created our own hearth to cook over.
The hearth is such a beautiful word of the English language because not only does it mean fireplace, but according to the Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, “hearth” also means “home” and it is also used to define a “vital or creative center”. These are all the essences we seek to create at Aishling Forest School, we hope that our learners feel that our forest and our hearth fire feel like both their home and a vital creative place for them.
Before we started any cooking, our learners worked on their tool skills by whittling their own roasting sticks for cooking cinnamon apple slices as well as practicing their hammer use with our kindling cracker log splitter. They chopped their own wood, helped build the fire, created their own cooking tools, then cooked their own food! By cooking over the fire, not only are we encouraging the numerous benefits of learning to cook and learning fire safety, but we are also honoring our ancestors. People started cooking in this fashion nearly two million years ago, according to anthropologist Richard Wrangham, author of Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human.
“By the Paleolithic era, 200,000 to 40,000 years ago, we were building primitive hearths in the form of a handful of stones in a circle—the sort kids today are taught to build in summer camp—and for the next many millennia such hearths, in various permutations, were the focal points of human homes. Our word focus—meaning the point at which all things come together—comes from the Latin for fireplace.” (Rebecca Rupp, 2015). In her National Geographic article, Rupp dives deeper into the fascinating history of our ancestors cooking over the fire as she begins to tell the tale of Otzi, a preserved 5000-year-old human body that was found with his birchbark box of embers wrapped in maple leaves, as well as his own fire starting kit with iron, flint, and a fine fluffy fungus for tinder. We speak of our ancestors often at forest school, as we call in our directions each morning we always remember to pay our gratitude to those that have come before us, and Otzi and his similar counterparts are a beautiful and crucial example of why we pay gratitude. If it wasn’t for those ancestors carrying around embers and tinder everywhere they went and learning to cook meals over the hearth for their families, where would we be today?
In addition to the beauty of honoring our ancestors when we cook with fire, as previously mentioned before, cooking in general offers numerous benefits to children. According to the American Institute for Cancer Research and their collaboration with SuperKids Nutrition, they have found that cooking with children has many benefits such as:
- creating a bonding experience
- teaches children life skills and food safety practices
- boosts self-esteem by accomplishing tasks that contribute
- allows scientific observation when food change forms
- provides an opportunity to discuss how healthy foods create a healthy body
- encourages creativity
These are all critical skills in child development, and when we combine them with the skills gained from allowing them to learn fire keeping and fire safety, we see that your learners also gain knowledge about :
- risk management
- organization skills
- respecting fire
Having your own fire at home and cooking outdoors during December is a beautiful way to celebrate the arrival of the winter solstice with your family. Some of our favorite nutritious and delicious campfire treats include roasted apples (you can swap out the sugar for honey or agave) and roasted banana boats (we used vegan chocolate chips in these).
Other Ways to Celebrate the Winter Solstice at Home
- Go on a morning walk and notice how many animal tracks you can find along the way
- Fill up your bird feeder on a regular basis. We love the window bird feeders since you can watch your featured friends
- Bundle up for a night hike and look for the moon and stars
- Make ice lanterns by freezing water, berries, and greens in a bundt pan.
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