Why My Granddaughter Got Matches For Her 6th Birthday

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While on the road doing presentations in Australia recently (thanks, Inspired EC), I ran across Redheads brand wooden matches and decided they would be a perfect present for my granddaughter Rowan’s 6th birthday because she’s a redhead and she likes fire.

The She’ll-Like-These realization is what pulled the trigger on the gift, but there was a lot more subconscious thought behind the decision. I figured it’d be fun to pull that thinking out of my head and turn it into words for anyone screaming at their screen “WHY WOULD YOU GIVE A SIX YEAR OLD MATCHES FOR HER BIRTHDAY!” or generally wondering why it’d be OK to give a six year old matches.

First off, I’m not alone in thinking having fire at their fingertips is good for kids. Here are Six Reasons Why Kids Should Play With Fire. And here’s an article on Introducing Fire Experiences Into An ECE Setting-it has a DIY on building a fire pit as well as a thoughtful explanation of why kids should use fire and its benefits. A quote I especially like from the second article:

“As parents and educators, it is important that we provide children with appropriate opportunities to identify and respond to their innate ‘fight-or-flight’ response; that uncomfortable ‘gut’ feeling that represents our own natural warning system. In fact, we actually do children a grave disservice when we attempt to eliminate all risk from their lives. Whilst the intentions are benevolent, the outcomes are disadvantageous.”

With all of that as a foundation, here are the four reasons Papa got her matches:

Her Parents Are Tuned In

I wouldn’t walk down the street handing matches out to random preschoolers–that could go horribly wrong. But, I know Rowan’s parents are on board with her having new experiences, taking risks, and engaging the world. Her Daddy and Mommy have ingrained the phrase don’t let fear control you into her little head. I’ve heard her repeating those words quietly to herself as a mantra when taking on a new challenge like climbing an unfamiliar playground structure or trying a new carnival ride.

When I checked in with my daughter via text messaging to see if matches were an acceptable present, her response was a simple “Yes?” (I’ve known her all her life and believe the question mark meant “why would you even need to ask?”)

Aside from being chill with a bit of risk, I know Zoe and Kory will set rules for the matches that will keep Rowan, her brother, their pets, the house, and their whole community from going up in flame. While they’re supportive of risk taking, they are thoughtful about mitigating danger and helping their children responsibly use tools and technology. I don’t know what the match use guidelines will be at her house, but I do know they’ll be thoughtful and enforced.

She Has Experience With Fire

I’m not sure matches would be a good gift choice for a child with no precious exposure to fire, but Rowan’s been interacting with fire since she learned to stand. Some of our best times together have been around the fire pit in my yard–writing with the ashy end of a burnt stick, roasting marshmallows, watching logs burn, conversing, and cuddling. Couple that with the fact that she’s been her Daddy’s shop helper for years and is already learning to weld, and I’m pretty confident she’s ready to play around with wooden matches.

She’s been around fire enough to make her cautious–she’s had smoke in her eyes, she’s felt the heat, and she’s even bravely healed after minor burns. Matches are a tool/technology for which she’s primed.

Fire Safety

The way children learn to be safe around fire is to be safe around fire: to experience it, to learn how it works, to feel the heat and taste the smoke, to cautiously confront fear, to learn how to respect it, to learn how to use it as a tool/technology. Over the years I’ve visited many wonderful early learning programs that use fire as part of their curriculum. At a Canadian forest school, a five year old deftly started the campfire with a knife and flint so we could make tea and apple crisp for afternoon snack. At a program in Australia, a staff member explained that they let kids interact with fire in a controlled environment so they’d respect it and stay safe. She explained that she didn’t want them getting curious when unsupervised, going off behind the shed with a box of Redheads, and burning down half the country. Sadly, there are licensing and health-and-safety officials who think fire and young children shouldn’t mix. I just heard from a program a few days ago that got in trouble for their fire pit. It’s a shame.

It’s easy to say That’s Dangerous and attempt to shelter kids from things like fire, but in the long run it does not prepare them to competently deal with the thing we tried sheltering them from. Being exposed, and trusted, and coached up around fire now means that when Rowan is 22 and her roommate starts a grease fire at 3:14 in the morning while cooking bacon, she’ll be confident and capable enough around flames to handle the situation.

Another thing about fire safety: fire safety related Pinterest craft projects involving red, orange, and yellow tissue paper; worksheets; and circle time discussions about stopping dropping and rolling don’t mean much to young children who have never been near a real flame.

Play

This is the big reason I wanted to get Rowan matches: they are fun and oh so full of yummy learning potential.

For example, think about the hand-eye coordination, small muscle control, visual tracking skills, confidence, and situational awareness needed to light a wooden match–or the self control needed not to light one until Daddy says it’s OK. But even more importantly, being trusted with fire play can lead to a sense of agency, trustworthiness, confidence, independence, self-reliance and more.

Matches and fire are also so darn STEMmy! They offer many paths into discussing and experimenting with chemistry, energy, rocketry, levitation, and more. They can also be a medium for self expression.

I feel like I should write more here, but I’m not sure how she’ll use them or what she’ll learn. The matches are variables, loose parts, that she’ll use as she sees fit. She may build a matchstick chicken, she may fall down a rabbit hole of match-based science experiments. She may put herself in charge of birthday cake candle lighting for the foreseeable future.

The Unwrapping

Sadly, The TSA apparently doesn’t allow boxes of matches in checked luggage, so they acquired the Redheads matches when our bags were checked upon returning to the States. Rowan ended up getting some lame looking boxed matches instead.

My decision to get her such a present was reinforced when we arrived at her house on her birthday–she was in the yard with her Daddy feeding sticks to their new fire pit.

When she unwrapped her matches, she didn’t really know what they were.

I demonstrated.

Her face lit up.

“Show me that again, Sloooooowly.”

I demonstrated again.

“I need to try!”

She lit her match on the first attempt, was startled by the big burst of flame so close to her fingers, and dropped the match on the dinning room floor.

I blew it out and explained that there was no reason to be scared. She tried again. When the match lit, she kept a grip on it. Her face beamed with pride. Her 18 month old brother looked upon her like she was a magical wizard.

Her Daddy sent us outside to play with matches by the fire pit, where we worked on our match skills until her Mommy hauled her inside to get her hair fixed for a dance recital.

Thoughts, Experiences, Insights, and Questions

I’d love to read your thoughts, experiences, insights, and questions about this topic in the comments below.

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Jeff is an early learning speaker, toymaker, podcaster, content creator, author, and founder of Playvolution HQ who is really bad at getting his picture taken.

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