City of Lincoln
Fire & Rescue Department
Just Clowning Around
This is just one of the many programs that have contributed to the success of educating the citizens of all ages, in Lincoln.
Lincoln's "Learn Not To Burn" program begins at the Kindergarten level, so a program was needed to address the Pre-School age group. The research noted that children at this level of development:
Most children at this age are naturally curious about fire. For the majority of them it is a simple fascination, but to some fire is an obsession. The correct action that should be taken to discourage negative behaviors, such as playing with fire, is to explain the proper behavior. For example, instead of simply saying, "don't play with matches", explain what to do with them. State that, "Matches should be given to an adult." This is an appropriate response because it is very important to children at this age to please their parents.
This program, which uses a clown character to convey the message, adheres to the concept that fire is a "tool" used by adults and is not a "toy". This program compares fire to other common tools that small children might recognize, such as a hammer or a screwdriver. Other props include toys with which most children are familiar. One-by-one the clown removes the objects from a bag and asks the kids to tell him whether it is a tool or a toy. After removing the match and lighter from the bag, the clown then explains that fire is a very important tool used by adults. Fire gives us light, heat, and cooks our food. But when fire is used as a "toy" by young people, it can burn down houses and even kill people. More often than not, the one playing with the matches is the one who gets hurt.
There is no clear-cut method of evaluation for this program because of the age of the students (generally they can neither read nor write). Instead of testing, the 5-step method of instruction for pre-schoolers is being used. This method was established by the Children's Television Workshop, which produces educational programs such as "Sesame Street".
The 5-step method of instruction for pre-school children is as follow:
The use of a clown is a very effective method of gaining and holding a small child's attention. The message delivered is that of match safety. The message is reinforced by a pamphlet on match safety that is sent home with the child, and is repeated several times throughout the program.
Lincoln's program was started by contacting the different pre-schools and day-care centers in Lincoln. It was explained that the Lincoln Fire Department was initiating a new fire prevention program for pre-schoolers and they were asked if they would be interested in participating. The response was overwhelming.
The city was divided into four sections and the area with the most fire-play was scheduled first. The clown would visit the classroom, give his presentation, and then ask the children to "help him out" by explaining to their parents what they had learned that day. Because of the short attention spans of these children the program only lasts about fifteen minutes. Too much information only tends to confuse them.