Children as Bushfire Educators - 'Just be Calm, and Stuff Like That'
Keywords:bushfire, disaster, wildfire, children, participatory, education, disaster risk reduction
The limited evidence about disaster education programs for children indicates that they can increase disaster resilience, family based preparedness activities and reduce child fear and anxiety. However there are still gaps in the literature, including qualitative studies to provide insights into children’s experiences of disaster education programs, and follow up with children who are impacted by actual disasters. This paper reports on a pilot study in Victoria, Australia of a ‘Survive and Thrive’ bushfire education program delivered by the local Fire Brigade and incorporated into the school curricula for upper primary school children in Anglesea, a coastal town with very high bushfire risk. A mix of longitudinal qualitative methods captures the child experience and the program impacts including impact on child agency. The results show the children enjoyed the program and valued the life skills acquired. They demonstrated knowledge and skills gained in monitoring environmental risks and bushfire behaviour, and more nuanced understanding of the differential roles of adults and children in responding to a bushfire in different contexts. Faced with the reality of a nearby bushfire in the summer holidays, children demonstrated their capacity to apply their knowledge and to contribute to family response.