It was the magic of Jiffy Pop that changed the whole thing.
It has been my experience that a campfire at school is one of those activities that does not require an anticipatory set or a bunch of “Hey, won’t this be fun!” We do go over safety and the co-oping parents know about our fire safety kit, what’s in it and what to do in case…, but with those gathered, there is an instant quiescence that settles when the first flame makes its appearance.
The children sit and they are fascinated. The elements that make a fire: heat, fuel, and oxygen — the science of fire becomes secondary to the human story of fire. The story overtakes the science even though that is still there. After a moment of silence, older children will begin telling stories and even though we light our fires in the middle of the day, the quiet and focus hints at night and the stories are usually ghost stories. Last year, even with a gathering of four and five-year olds a campfire featured a natural circling and settling with the children. Then once a story was modeled, the children would take over by telling their own stories with bits and pieces sifted from the adult-sample and other stories they had heard.
This year was different. That bit of flame presented only a momentary pause for the children. They wanted to leave the circle even before the fire had flared up to go back inside. I scrambled for ways to make them stay longer, even as I challenged myself, “What’s the big deal? Why do I NEED the children to stay?” Well, the answer to those questions happen to be available. We have been working intensely on story (to support imaginary and symbolic play and associated enriched language) for a year and several months with this group. I felt compelled to pursue any opportunity to create and share story. Campfires, surely, are another way to support the sharing and fine-tuning of story. I couldn’t give up on the pursuit.
So we started to think about adding some kind of magical component. Is there room for alchemy in early childhood education? Sparkling, shifting light, disco balls? What could I come up with? I decided to gamble on Jiffy Pop popcorn. I don’t know about you, but I have never had good luck with this product and yet I thought if this works, it will be magic! Just think, that silvery foil bubble being pushed along by some mysterious rattling zings of the popping corn just like in the commercial will be so fascinating that children will surely be transfixed. We just needed a moment, didn’t we, to turn the corner?
Well, the universe was working in our favor because the Jiffy Pop popped just like it’s advertised AND there weren’t any burned kernels left over at the end! The children were indeed transfixed and fascinated although some had to be reassured that there wouldn’t be an explosion. Here’s the thing…these children did not know what was INSIDE the tins. These children couldn’t take my word for it that there was popcorn inside and that popping corn kernels were pushing up the foil in a perfect dome.
Their story, is that the campfire was the very essence of the struggle we had been working on for so long — imagination. It brought them to a scary place. It was this realization that revealed why the campfire was not really working with this group. Their imagination was all about the now and the thing in front of them was dangerous. The very necessary safety lessons didn’t signal precaution to them, it signaled impending doom. Live and learn. Changes had to be made.
Once they saw the popcorn, the children who were worried visibly relaxed. The next step became a simple one — “What should we cook next?” It was the light at the end of the tunnel and so that we did not have a possible recurrence of the worry about possibly-exploding food, I knew that the children would have to be directly involved in making the food. The ideas flowed and the children would ask, “Is today a campfire day?”
Since that day, we have made flatbread pizza and savory and sweet mountain pies. What’s next? I don’t know yet. What I do know is that the campfire arc has swooshed right to where I want it to be — full buy-in and on campfire days, we eat the most delicious food while experiencing the very thing I wanted . . . STORY.