Kids and campfires can mix safely, with supervision.

Campfire Safety for Kids

by Kathryn Walsh

S'more-making was more relaxing before kids came along. Back then, you didn't have to figure out how to get dried strings of marshmallow out of T-shirts or live in a state of panic as long as the campfire burned. Enjoying this classic summer pastime should still be a blast for kiddos and parents alike, and ensuring that munchkins are safe around the campfire is key. When it comes to marshmallow cleanup, though, you're on your own.

Making a Safe Fire

An out-of-control campfire is just as hard to tame as an old-of-control toddler or preschooler -- though it's far more dangerous. To keep kiddos safe, the architect of your campfire needs to follow some safety rules of his own. If you're not using a prepared campfire pit, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service suggests digging a hole 2 feet across and 6 inches deep. Any campfire pit needs to be located under open air instead of under hanging branches, and the fire should be surrounded by a circle of rocks or a ridge of dirt. Arrange tinder, or dry leaves and small twigs, and small sticks in the center of the pit. After lighting these pieces, let the flames grow before adding larger pieces of dry firewood. Keep a bucket of water at hand. Another adult needs to keep kids occupied away from the fire while it's being built.

Before a Campfire

"Biting your brother is against the rules." "No eating the dog's food." "Glitter does not belong in the butter." Your munchkin is used to hearing your rules repeated over and over, and he needs to hear them before a campfire celebration. Explain that you'll show him where he's allowed to roam near the fire, and that going any closer than he's allowed will result in a swift and heartbreaking punishment -- namely, he'll have to hold your hand the rest of the night. Before the fire gets going, create a clearly visible safe zone. Use stones to make a second ring at least three feet away from the fire for him to stand behind, or to cordon off a particular area for the kiddos. Tell every child in a serious tone that "Fire can hurt. We never ever run or play around fire."

During a Campfire

Your kid-dar is finely tuned by now, and you've always got at least one eye on your tot or preschooler. When you're relaxing (as if) near a campfire, both eyes need to be on him at all times, because an accident can spark in a second. Since you'd like to enjoy yourself too, consider working out a supervision schedule with your partner and other trusted adults, but emphasize that anyone watching the kids has to be fully focused and fully sober. Munchkins shouldn't miss out on the best part of a campfire (hello, s'mores!) but unless you have superlong roasting sticks, explain that roasting marshmallows and other treats is an adult job. Putting those bad boys together, however, is a task your kiddo is up to. Just let marshmallows cool for a few minutes so his little fingers won't get roasted too.

After a Campfire

By the end of the night, the flames are dwindling and so is your little one's energy (hopefully). Putting out a campfire safely is just as important as building one safely, and this is a process that kiddos can't help with. Make sure another adult hangs around at the end of the gathering so one person can deal with the fire while another watches the kids. Don't let a fire go out on its own, says the USDA; instead, dump a bucket of water on it and use a shovel to move the sizzling pieces of wood around to make sure every piece is drenched. Continue mixing water with the ashes until they feel cool and all embers are extinguished. Even then, teach little ones to respect fire by telling them "Even though the flames are gone, it's not safe for you to go near the campfire."

About the Author

Cooking, travel and parenting are three of Kathryn Walsh's passions. She makes chicken nuggets during days nannying, whips up vegetarian feasts at night and road trips on weekends. Her work has appeared to The Syracuse Post-Standard and insider magazine. Walsh received a master's degree in journalism from Syracuse University.

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