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Welcome a chance to play safely with fire

Teachers wanting to put some spark into their lessons should consider using fire to inspire children, says an academic.

Mike Wragg, senior lecturer in playwork at Leeds Metropolitan University, has worked with children and trained teachers in how to use fire creatively - from cooking, to creating art and learning about different cultures.

"There's a natural reaction of fear," he said. "But I think it is not the element itself that is dangerous. Not using it appropriately or competently, that's where the danger lies.

"You could argue that if children don't get the opportunity to come into contact with fire, then they won't burn themselves, but you could say that about all sorts of opportunities."

As well as advice on keeping safe, he has ideas for activities. "Cooking is popular," he said, "things such as baking eggs in potatoes. You make a fire, then cut the top off a potato, break an egg in, put the top back on and bake it in the embers.

"Another idea is making balloons out of tissue paper, then suspending a little foil tray underneath, put in a tea light, and that produces enough hot air to inflate the bag. They look brilliant glowing in the night sky."

Learning about the effects of fire on materials is part of the primary science curriculum. But while Mr Wragg can rattle off learning opportunities, he also believes that using fire is simply an experience children should have. "Children are almost always gleeful, if not awestruck," he said. "It is giving children the opportunity to experience something magical."

He is not alone. Some schools set aside areas for bonfires, such as Tremorfa Nursery in Cardiff, where three- and four-year-olds have the chance to cook food on sticks over an open fire. Annamaria Bevan, head of the nursery's forest school, said: "We have quite a big wooded play area which is fenced off and there is a log circle. We train the children to sit safely around the fire. It fits in well with learning and it is a wonderful experience for them."

Mr Wragg will be running a workshop on safe play with fire at a conference at Eureka, the children's museum in Halifax, on Wednesday.

www.eureka.org.uk.

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