The firefighters are visiting our 3-5 classroom next Monday, so yesterday I started in on our fire safety curriculum. I guess I shouldn’t say our curriculum since it’s based on a kit supplied by the Bic lighter company and distributed by the Seattle Fire Department. The expectation is that teachers have run through the material in preparation for the firefighters’ arrival.
We don’t use the dvd – we strive to be a low-tech school – and some of the stuff is designed for older kids, but much of the material is really spot on. There’s a playing card matching game that did some pretty good “business” yesterday, and re-usable sticker sets for dressing and redressing a cardboard firefighter in his full turnout suit, among other things. But the most popular classroom activity by far is one in which I hide pictures of “dangerous” items (e.g., lighters, matches, candles, stoves, grills) around the classroom along with pictures of “safe to play” items (e.g., balls, watering cans, crayons). When children find the dangerous items we put them up high for safety, while the “safe to play” items are put on the floor so “even babies can play with them.”
This game has proven so reliably popular that I’ve made my own tagboard-reinforced, laminated set from the plain paper ones supplied in the kit. In fact, I’ve acquired four of the kits over the years and have made a giant set. Yesterday, I spent the first part of the morning hiding and re-hiding the cards, while children chased after me keeping the classroom safe from potential fire. Sarah and Katherine were particularly enthusiastic fire safety advocates, so after awhile I put them in charge of hiding the cards. They made it much more difficult than I had, sticking them inside of books, under puzzles and inside boxes. I’m sure I’ll be finding these hazardous items around the room for the next several weeks.
At Circle Time we started running through the discussion cards from the kit. I’m so glad we’ve been practicing our group discussion skills, because it makes it possible for us to get through this rather “talky” curriculum. Some of the kids already knew the “stop, drop, and roll” procedure for putting out a fire on oneself, which we all practiced together. But the most important part of this curriculum in my opinion, and the primary reason we have firefighters visit, is to talk about what to do if you see a firefighter in your house.
When fully outfitted in their turnout suits, including their eye screens and oxygen masks, real-life firefighters can be intimidating figures, especially when they speak like Darth Vader. Apparently, it’s very common for young children to flee and even hide when confronted by such a figure in a real emergency, which obviously, is the opposite of what we want them to do. Yesterday, I walked the kids through pictures of firefighters in action, repeatedly asking, “What do you do if you see a firefighter in your house?”
By the time we came to the end of the session, most of the kids were answering, “Go to him,” but I still heard several voices saying, “Run away!” So we have work to do.
The firefighters will bring their truck on Monday and the kids will have the chance to clamber all over it. Last year they showed the children how to turn the flashing lights on, which was a huge hit, but the real reason they come is to let the kids see one of them don a full turnout suit. And even then, even though they know there is a friendly firefighter inside all that equipment, some of the children will be wide-eyed with fear.
This particular firefighter visit is coming at an opportune time if only because our school’s neighborhood has recently been hit by a spate of arson fires. There’s an undercurrent of heightened nervousness around the subject right now and I’m sure some of the children have picked up from their parents or from the news.
But even in normal times, children’s fears are a real concern. Last night at our parent meeting, Lisa told me that her daughter Sarah (in spite of her enthusiasm for hiding our fire safety cards) had cried earlier in the evening, saying she didn’t want to come to school next Monday. The idea of firefighters in her school was too frightening. This isn’t the first time I’ve heard this. I always strongly urge parents to bring their children to school anyway, even if it means that you have to promise to stay with them. This is an important, even potentially life-saving, fear to overcome.
Most of the kids, of course, are eager for this visit (as are, I’m guessing, a few of our moms – hey, they’re firefighters!), but it’s the nervous ones I’m focusing on. When that strange, large figure stands among us next Monday, speaking to us in an electronically-enhanced voice, I’ll be scanning the children’s faces for signs of anxiety. I have no illusion that we’ll completely alleviate their trepidation during the next couple weeks – overcoming our fears is usually a multi-stage process – but hopefully we will have taken some first steps.
My real hope is that the next steps will be taken at home. Sarah is Lisa's third child to come through Woodland Park, so their family has experienced this curriculum many times. It made me feel good when she said that our fire safety curriculum is what reminds her family each year to run through their own fire safety plans. It's an important dinner table conversation for everyone.