Back in 2010 our church did the Egypt VBS that Group is putting out again this year. I worked in the Marketplace making mud bricks, and I can tell you, it was a blast. It's cheap, fun and really does give kids a good idea about life in Egypt (or lots of places in the middle east, really...where most people made their houses out of mud bricks).
Here's my brick making suggestions:
1. Group has instructions for making bricks, but for those not using this program, you can find instructions on the Biblical Archaeology website. Note that Group instructions skip steps 3 and 4, for obvious reasons--who has time for prepping mud for 5 days for a simple kids project? Turns out the straw was used because it releases humic acid which makes for really strong bricks--so the four days of mud stomping was probably to give time for fermentation and to mix the acid from the straw through the mud. For VBS craft purposes, less strong bricks will do...but if you were doing this for homeschool I could see where going through the whole 5 day process might be educational.
2. The website above also doesn't include instructions for the wood mold...but those are pretty simple to make...just four short pieces of wood nailed or glued together like in the picture above (though ours were a little narrow--slightly wider ones are easier to work with). Another idea I didn't try, which seems easier on the building end, but maybe harder on the "getting them all out in one piece end" is to build one long mold with several holes (like this one, except open on both ends). You will also want some thick short slabs of wood to use to help kids pack the mud and push the bricks out of the mold (see below).
3. I'd say in most cases it's better to get regular straight out of the ground dirt if you can (especially if you live in a place like Texas where the ground is literally called Texas clay). Garden soil or sand does not make especially sturdy bricks, but the brick I made out of "Texas clay" from my backyard ...that dried rock hard and solid. You can ask volunteers to each bring a bucket of dirt from home or you can talk with a construction company to see if they have any extra "out of the ground" dirt you can use.
4. A butter knife can be useful to run along the side of the brick mold if the brick has trouble coming out of the mold. Below a child uses a plastic knife to smooth his brick.
The bricks shown here were made with a mix of
garden sand/soil mixed in, and came out kind of
crumbly. "Texas clay" straight out of my back yard
worked much better - it dried solid like rock.
5. This "craft" is messy! If you can, put your brick making area outside. If you can't, protect your floor with a large tarp and line the outsides of the area with towels for kids to wipe their feet off on. Also, have some extra towels and a bucket of clean water for kids to wash their hands in...maybe some hand sanitizer or soap too (Historical Tidbit: Egyptians actually had a form of soap). Also, be forewarned that your clothes will get muddy...it will add to the authenticity of your costume *wink.* We offered kids pillowcase tunics to wear, which worked to protect their clothes from home too. If you don't, I would suggest providing some sort of apron or overshirt for kids to wear during this craft.
My outfit during the week got
more and more "authentic"
6. Decor for the brick making shop is pretty simple. The bricks themselves can be part of your...as the week progresses the kids will need to leave the bricks to dry, though having a few to show to start with is helpful. Hey bales can be used as seats. For covering your table and any decorative draping on the sides of tent I suggest beige plastic shower curtains. Only use sheets if you own them, not ones you've borrowed as they could get mud splattered on them. I managed to find one real wooden bucket at a thrift store for ours, but we had plastic ones too...you could paint plastic buckets like wood but I don't think it would be worth the trouble, personally (cause you'll need a lot of buckets for this). If you are outside you can keep dirt in piles. Hay looks nice in burlap sacks or canvas laundry bags (but again, the messiness factor is something to consider...only do this with donated bags, not loaned).
7. Dry your bricks on trays of hay or sand to keep them from sticking. You will need to take them outside every day to dry in the sun, so kids will have to leave them (pray for no rain!).
8. An idea we toyed with but didn't use was making something with our bricks--like a firepit or an edging to a flower garden. Didn't do that, but I still think this would be cool (depending on the sturdiness of your bricks).
Child playing with the muddy water
we used to mix our bricks.
we used to mix our bricks.
9. Younger kids may come back to play in the dirt and mud. Our brick-making shop turned into an "extra activity" for wee ones who finished early in other shops.
10. Visit this site to learn more about Egyptian Brick Making. It has a drawing of Egyptians making bricks, and TONS of interesting facts about ancient Egyptian brick-making.
Most of these photos were not taken by me, but other wonderful photographers at Dayspring Baptist Church.
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