Fire is a wonderful teacher. This is an activity we often do, even with first-time groups. As you read this activity, identify the core routines participants would be using. What mentoring tools could you use?

What you will need:

1. Matches
2. Area adequate for lighting 
small fires
3. Water for dousing fire

The Framing: 
At some point while camping you will inevitably find yourself down to your “last match”. If you treat each match as your last match, when the time comes you will be prepared.

The challenge: 
You have five minutes to gather a “bundle” of whatever you think will light from a single match. Go!

The set-up: 
While participants search the local landscape for materials, clear a 5’ circumference area of all leaf litter/debris.

The Flow: 
When the time is up, call in all participants. One by one have them attempt to light their bundles in this safe zone. After all participants have gone, “demo” your own bundle.

The Conversation: 
While each person attempts to light their bundle, help them to assess what they gathered and ask them questions as they progress. 

Q. What type of materials did you gather? 
Q. What seems to be burning?
Q. What isn’t burning?
Q. Why did the match go out?

Periodically between

participants’ attempts, ask them broad questions or give them guidance and coaching.

  1. Why do matches go out? Wind, Water, Smothering. 
  2. Which way does fire burn? Up. 
  3. How do you safely hold a match? Up/sideways. 
  4. How can the group help you to keep the match lit? Wind block.

When done repeatedly, this is a wonderful activity for quickly highlighting to a group the diverse natural materials unique to each environment. Because each material works differently dependent on such things as weather conditions (current and recent) and where the material is in its life cycle (alive/dead/recently dead/decomposing, etc.), there is amazing potential to highlight ecological lessons without ever mentioning the word ecology. Of course they will continue to learn from each other, and their own proficiency at a fundamental wilderness skill–fire making–will improve as well.

Matches can be “earned” in advance of the activity by correctly answering nature “trivia” questions. The activity can be repeated immediately so participants have a chance to synthesize lessons learned. This activity can of course be done in established fire pits in a developed area.


If you are not yet proficient with your own fire skills, have no fear. Children are very forgiving and will soak up your own motivation to learn, so practice with them!


  1. Participants are not motivated
  2. Try expanding the activity so there is incentive, i.e. offer apples to roast on the fire once it’s going, or make hot cocoa.
  3. Tell a story (yours or someone else’s) to inspire and raise the bar for success.
  4. Nothing seems flammable
  5. See nothing as a failure but as lessons learned. Point out that there is simply knowledge missing and a need for experience that can only be gained from trying.

Frame it as a question: 
“What’s happening here and what is this telling us?”

Send us a note about how it goes for you!