Valpurgis - Valborg - FIRE!
At the end of April in Sweden there is the Valborg celebration - where bonfires are lit around the country to give the sun strength and to sing and welcome spring.
This year, like last year, spring has started unusually early here in Stockholm, but all the same there will be bonfires lit, sausages eaten and songs sung...
Young children might not fully understand the whole process of the bonfire... if they are up late enough to see there fires... its a mix... I have seen plenty of young children at these celebrations, but also I am aware that many do not take their children due to crowds and the lateness.
Here is a little art project that can be done to create a little fire art for those interested... either in connection with the celebration or because you are investigating fire...
This is a great technique for children who do not like getting messy, but do get the opportunity to play with paint - it involves putting cling film over the paint... (although at my last preschool there was no clingfilm so I used a plastic freezer bag that I cut open - and to be honest I found that soo much easier to manage as it does not curl and cling to itself as you are trying to get the plastic over the paint - so in the future I will be using plastic bags again... make sure they are clear so that you can see what you are doing - as its the process that is the most important...) This time red and yellow was used to create flames - but using green, blue and white works great to make planet earth, and when its dry cut out a circle shape (if you look at the colours of the planets its actually possible to do the whole solar system this way...).
start with squeezing out paint onto the paper - if it Earth you are wanting to do, think that the planet is 70% water so you need mostly blue. These are all things you can have spoken with the children beforehand. if it is fire, then maybe you have observed flames together and talked about what colours you can see, so that the children are involved in the process of colour selection and it is not simply children doing something the adults have prepared.
You could warm the paint, so that the sensory experience is heightened. You could also have a cup of hot lapsang souchong tea on a high shelf in the room, to create a smokey scent, to further add to the sensory experience.
place the plastic over the paint and then let them move and press the paint around to mix it - the children DID look at their hands and were surprised that they were not covered in paint (2-4 year olds). I also used this art session to practice patience - that the group of 4 children each session had to wait for each other before they started. In my head I feel this is trying to create a GROUP feeling that the art session is not just about the individual interaction with the materials but also the interactions between the individuals watching, listening - essentially giving the children the TIME to learn from each other rather than simply being engrossed in their own activity... As you see from the photos this was easy to do as there were only four children at a time.
it gave the children the chance to observe each other and be inspired - and also to learn to enjoy the enjoyment of others
then it is time to remove the plastic film - for best fire effects removing the plastic upwards (away from the child) creates the feeling that the flames are going upwards. It also allows the child to see the effect. In this session I was fully focussed on each child being a part of the group and did not recycle - usually I have an extra piece of paper waiting on the side to put the plastic on and it's good for another print... this is MUCH easier with freezer bags! The second image allows for another art approach - like using a black pen to create silhouettes...
or cutting out images on black paper to put in front of the fire, like dancing people surrounding the Valborg celebration fire.
The glue-gun came out to stick on small twigs - no photos of this as I was with the children 100% for their first time with a glue gun - and I wanted to ensure that I was fully focussed to give them the support that they required.
Here is one of the finished fires. Hopefully it contributes to giving the sun warmth so that spring comes and summer is warm! The great part of this process is yet again the fact that all the products are so so very different despite the same materials being used - some turned out tall, others wide, some with yellow and red other's almost totally orange - again coming back to similarities and differences... The children had all created an image of fire, yet each one was unique.
Below are some images from a Valborg fire with my family... so not a public one with lots of singing, but one connected to managing the land...
Cutting down the small trees growing on the meadow, the forest surrounds is on three side... on the other side it is meadow then a ting wooded area and the lake... These bits are too small to bother putting in the woodpile for keeping warm in winter... they are put onto the bonfire. The meadow is where the roe-deer come every evening and morning to eat...
some of the twigs and branches are prepared to use to cook sausages etc on over the fire...
It is always important to stamp around the fire before lighting it to scare out the animals that might have built their homes there.. The bonfire is built slowly over time with the items that do not fit into the compost.
This time it was a grass snake that we moved to a safe place.
This is a non-poisonous snake.
There are vipers in Sweden (the adder) and it has been important to teach the children the difference between the two, and also how to walk across the meadow to scare off the snakes so that they do not bite out of defence... So we walk with heavy feet and talk loudly...
a grass snake is technically not a snake, but a legless lizard... there is actually a difference!
watching the flames. it is mesmerising - also waiting for the flames to die down so that we can cook food over the hot ashes.
We wrapped bread dough around our sausages to cook at the same time!
Finding the perfect sausage stick is an art form... long enough so that you don't get too hot, strong enough to be able to carry the sausage, thick enough that it does not burn and drop the sausage in the fire but thin enough so it is not too heavy... marshmallows can be put on the end of the sick too, of course!!
We also wrap potatoes and other things in foil and place them in the ashes to cook.
Below are some images from when I took my preschoolers into the forest to "play" with fire... the back story was that we had seen a left over fire in the forest and had called the fire service a few weeks before as the ground was smoking. The fire service decided that the ground was over-heated and could easily ignite again which could potentially create a forest fire. So they used a vast amount of water to cool the earth down. The children saw the whole process.
We felt that it was important for the children to know how to make a fire safely and also how to properly put out a fire afterwards, to give them the knowledge, but also to feel safe about fire.
We have selected out spot for the fire. Stones around to contain, and also stones to sit on.
We talked to the children beforehand what they should do if their clothes caught fire - to drop and roll. We did not have a barrier around the fire... this was done so that the children could discover themselves that they did not want to get too close... because they felt the heat.
preparing their sticks for the sausages (vegetarian/vegan and milk-free options)
The children used vegetable peelers to fix their sticks once they had located a good grill-stick in the forest
Then it is time to sit and grill their sausages over the open fire. I think this was actually their least favourite part of the process, as it took longer than they had hoped, and it required sitting still and being patient.
There were those who did not like being so close to the fire because it felt too hot for them... luckily they had friends that took over the sausage responsibility on their behalf.
Putting out the fires was definitely an interesting part of the process... the sounds and smell of this part had quite an impact.
The children checked with their hands slowly over the ground where the fire had been... could they still feel any heat.
They could on the rocks... they had heard them sizzle slightly at first... but after much water they had cooled to be just warm.
All of the children wanted to be a part of this part, understandably after seeing the fire service before.
Then it was also exciting to pick up the small branches and sticks they had collected for the fire and see that they had transformed into charcoal. Now they were no longer simply fuel for the fire, but writing tools... the mix of the wet and charcoal gave them quite an exciting effect on the rocks.
Again the children had to be aware of what they were picking up... was it cold, or warm or a little too hot to hold. Nothing was burning hot... but there were things that were to hot to hold comfortably.
All opportunities for the children to learn about risk and the dangers of fire in a safe way.
With respect and knowledge a fire is a useful tool for warmth, cooking etc... but if not looked after carefully or respected, then it can be dangerous, burn or cause forest or urban fires.
The last image below shows a purpose built fire place in a preschool yard. Allowing children to developing a healthy relationship with fire. And not one that is filled with fear, but knowledge. So that mistakes and accidents can be avoided.
This approach is very much a part of Original Learning... observing the children's experiences and then giving them the knowledge they need, through hands on experience to be competent and meeting the world around them.