“Fire don’t leave me now…

… not when I’ve loved you so much!”

In honour of the cold and overcast post-holiday greys, here’s a post on playing in the dark.

We often complain about early nightfall, the reduced numbers of children playing out and the problems associated with playwork in the darkness, and in doing so we miss the enormous possibilities.  With fewer children you can try offers that might be difficult otherwise, taking different risks.  For opening my eyes to the possibilities of darkness as a ‘loose part’ and the opportunities for winter play magic, I have to thank Penny Wilson and Kelda from PATH. 

For many people, sand pits and fires are impossible to offer for play, a state of affairs which is incredibly sad.  Children are perfectly capable of enjoying and exploring fire without setting themselves alight, and sand pits do not deserve their position as the latest health and safety nightmare.  Still, I know I was lucky to have the chance to lead on this session, in which we lit tiny fires in a sand pit (that we cleared out by daylight the following morning).  The children involved were roughly six to eleven, weighted to the younger end.

Because of the wind and the children’s lack of experience with fire, I decided to bring squares of firestarter bricks, rather than candles which would have gone out.  We put these in shallow holes in the sand, so it looked like this:

We then found that you could lean wax crayons over the flames, melting the wax without burning up the paper.

The wax could then be poured out onto a piece of paper, or flicked across it.

The greatest moments came after this, when it was too dark for artwork and the children lit fires  in curving pathways and fairy circles, which they then jumped in and out of.  Of course, there was a giant bucket of water nearby and the flames were a few inches high at most, but there was something profound for them in crossing a perforated burning line.  One older boy took great care in feeding cardboard scraps to a fire, lit off to one side, until it was quite large.  He laid sheets of paper on top, then watched the fire split them one by one into segments that peeled back from the flames.  When the paper was gone and the fire started to burn down, he was begging it to stay.


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