Monday, March 8, 2021

Making Mud Bricks

 Picture of completed mud 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.

Back in 2010 our church did an Egypt themed VBS that included making mud bricks, and I can tell you, it was a blast.  It's cheap, fun and really does give kids a glimpse into a common part of life in ancient Egypt (and lots of  other places in the ancient world where people made their homes out of mud brick, such as Mesopotamia, the Indus Valley civilization, and ancient Nubia).

For these instructions I consulted the instructions on the Biblical Archaeology website and several other websites (see sources at the bottom of the page) and added some suggestions we learned while doing this project with groups of kids age 4-11.  


There are two main ways to make your brick mold...single-brick molds or multi-molds.   Both use the same basic materials.


1x4 or 2x4 cut into smaller


The brick molds shown below were made by cutting 1x4 or 2x4 boards into smaller sections and nailing together in the pattern you can see below.  Ours were a little narrow (making 2" wide bricks...3" wide are better).     For 3" wide bricks cut wood in the following dimensions

FOR 1x4
5" end pieces
6" side pieces

FOR 2x4
7" end pieces
6" side piece 

You can of course go a little longer or shorter if you want, for different sized bricks.

How to make mud bricks like they did in ancient time:   This picture shows the wood frame for a mud bricks.

Then you nail the ends together.  Of course, some early civilizations didn't have "nails" so you might be cheating a bit.  Off Grid Web has an article showing how these molds were made before nails were used, which might be fun to show your kids, though would be much more challenging to replicate.


You can also make a long mold for several bricks by using a longer piece of wood and putting slats between it, as shown here.   I prefer the smaller one when working with multiple children though because it allows them to more easily  remove the brick themselves, in stead of all being crowded around one larger mold. 


Whichever type of mold you use, it's helpful to reserve a short 2x4 to use to pack the mud and help push the bricks out of the mold if they stick. 

(From a blog post on how to make mud bricks like the ancient Egyptians) Picture showing how to pack down the bruck using a short 2x4 piece.


Brick Mold  (see above)
Dirt (see note below)
Hay or sand (optional)
Shovel or other intrument for mixing mud
Spatula or other flat tool (for help removing bricks once dried)
Short 2x4 (optional, see above)
Plastic Butter knife for each child (optional, for smoothing top)
Cookie sheet or board (optional)

For Mess Management:
Tarp or plastic sheet (such as a disposable plastic tablecloth or cut up trash bags)
An extra bucket of water to wash in
Trash bags to protect clothing

The best dirt to use is a clay like dirt (not too sandy, not too "woody").   If you live in central Texas, what is in your backyard is perfect (if you haven't amended it much).   In other places your backyard soil might be less perfect, but what is in your backyard will still most likely be better than what you can buy in a garden center ("clay" dirt is a nightmare for growing most plants in, so this type of dirt isn't usually sold).


1.  Pick your time and prepare your location. (It's best to do this craft outdoors if possible, on a warm sunny day.   Bricks can take several days to fully dry, so do not try this when rain is expected.)  

If you have an outdoor location, hard ground or cement is preferable.   If the only outdoor location has grass, you will need boards, cookie sheets, or other flat hard surfaces to put your bricks on.  If picnic tables are available they work well...but remember to cover them with a plastic tarp or disposable tablecloth. 

If you are doing this in an indoor space you will want to lay out a tarp to contain the mess, and cover any table you use (a cut up trash bag can work if doing this with just your own children).   You will still need to take the bricks outside to dry.   To make it easier to move them outside I suggest getting a board to make your bricks on, or cookie sheets (using these can also allow you to do this craft outside on grass).

If doing this in a group you will also want to set up a washing station for cleaning muddy hands and have a towel set aside for wiping feet as children leave the brick making area, so they don't track mud outside that space.  You will also probably want to have kids wear a trash bag with holes cut in it for the arms and head (in our camp we used pillowcases for kids to wear, which doubled as a costume once we added a colored sash). 

Picture of a child playing with muddy water used to make mud bricks.

Child playing with the muddy water we used to mix our bricks.
This was not the "mud" but the water we scooped into the dirt,
which is why you'll want something separate to wash with.

2. Mix soil and water in a large bucket or other container to create a thick mud (it should not be too watery).  Kids really like taking part in this, usually.

For a more authentic experience, and sturdier bricks, add straw ( around a half pound of straw for every cubic foot of mud mixture), and then KNEAD DAILY FOR FOUR DAYS, then leave the mixture alone for a few days before using (kneading the mixture one more time on the day you use it).   This allows the straw to ferment which creates a chemical reaction in the mud that makes them three times stronger than regular clay.   But, understandably, you might want to skip this, as we did, as it's time consuming (and the fermentation may possibly create a smell).   Still, its good to tell kids that this was part of the original process, and what it was for.   Just adding the straw without the extra days on kneading doesn't seem to add much strength to the bricks, and actually seemed to make them a little more fragile.  

4.   Whatever surface you've prepared to make your bricks on (unless it's already covered by a plastic sheet), distribute hay or sand on it to make it easier to get the bricks off it later (WARNING:  sand can damage cookie sheets).

5.   Pour the mud into the molds and pack them down with your hands or a short 2x4 piece.  Scrape off any excess mud with a piece of wood or other flat tool such as a plastic knife.  

6.  (Optional) Let molds sit to solidify for 20 minutes.   This was suggested in the original authentic method, but we were able to remove the mud from the molds right away without much problem. 

7.   Remove the brick from the mold.   You may need to gently push them out with a short 2x4 piece or other tool.  

8.   If you are indoors, carefully move your cookie sheets or board with bricks outside to dry.   If you are outside, leave your bricks alone.   Bricks may dry in a day but can take several days.   They are usually sturdy enough to transfer onto a paper plate after several hours of drying though. 

These were my sources for this article, and are fun extra reads.

Biblical Archaeology, written by anonymous Biblical Archaeology Society Staff,    August 15, 2020 

Primitive Technology: Making Mud Bricks
Off Grid Web, Written by on (Lion Tracks Ministries), unknown Author, unknown published date, accessed 3/8/2021

Ultimate Guide to MudBricks
The Survival Journal, Publish Date Unknown, Last Updated August 30, 2020, Written by Editorial Staff, accessed 3/8/2021

Mudbricks, unknown Author, unknown published date, accessed 3/8/2021.

Most of the photos were not taken by me, 
but by other wonderful photographers at Dayspring Baptist Church

Shared on Dear Homeschooler Bookshelf

Friday, March 5, 2021

Caterpillar Cupcake Cake

This caterpillar cupcake cake is one of the easiest cakes to make, ever...but totally cute and charming.   Really,  I hardly need to explain it.   You just frost cupcakes in light green, then draw legs and antenna on the plate below them, and draw eyes and a smiling mouth with writing icing.  Even if you totally botch the eyes (as I did...I guess that writing icing was sort of drippy), it can come out cute.   And if it doesn't, its easy to swop in another cupcake for the face and try again.  
It's a "no talent required" cake and I like that.   

While this doesn't feed many, you can do a few of these cakes if you have a larger crowd, or make other bug cupcakes, like the ladybug, or these candy bug cupcakes we did for another party, to fill in.

The ladybug was a touch harder.   I think I let my son do the dots...not sure.   But even done very imperfectly was cute and pretty easy. 

Friday, February 12, 2021

Quick Typing Tip

When your child typing a copy of something, here is a simple way to prop up the paper to make it easier for your child to see.  

When typing the first half of the paper, fold the paper in half with the text facing forward, and slip the bottom half of the paper under the keyboard as shown in the picture above. 

When typing the second half re-fold the paper in the opposite direction, then prop it up behind the keyboard like a tent, as shown in the picture above.

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Book Review: Treasures of the Snow

Treasures of the Snow by Patricia St. John - a well worn and beautiful Christian children's book that was the most powerful story about forgiveness I ever read.

This post contains affiliate links through which I can earn commission

Treasures of the Snow by Patricia St. John is a beautifully written story of forgiveness and redemption that had a profound impact on me as a child.   The story it holds, and powerful Christian message carried with it, has stuck with me through the years, and it was a joy to share this book with my own children.

The story circles through several Christmases in the lives of two children, a boy and a girl.   At first, you see the story through the eyes of the little girl and the boy is portrayed as the "villain"...but then the story shifts and we see things through his eyes.    It continues to switch back and forth between their perspectives throughout the rest of the story. 

And in the background of the unfolding drama is the beautiful Swiss alps, exquisitely captured so that you can feel the crisp air, hear the crunch of the snow, see the wildflowers dotting the hillside, and feel the height of the steep ravines and the chill of a swirling blizzard. 

Something that I didn't remember until I was reading it with my own homeschooling child, was that the little girl is homeschooled for a while towards the beginning of the story, so that she can take care of her little brother.   Even though this only brief part of the story, lasting the span of a single chapter, it was nice to have that little moment of connection when reading it to my son.

And, with its beginning and end set at Christmas time, and it's advent length of 25 chapters, it's the perfect book to read over the holidays. 

Unfortunately, if you want to read St. John's beautiful original prose, you will have to get an older version of the book.  The newest version is an adaption, and while the re-write stays faithful to the original story and I don't think it's badly done, I do prefer the Patricia St. Johns original writing better, so if you can find an older copy I suggest that.   But the story wonderful no matter which version you get.

Here is a comparison of some lines from both version so you can see for yourself, and make your own decision which you prefer...

ORIGINAL:  They had come to a parting of ways.  The crumbly white snow-path lined with sled tracks divided.  A few hundred yards along the right fork stood a group of houses with light shining in their windows and dark barns behind them.  Annette was nearly home.

NEW ADAPTION: They had come to where the crumbly white path divided.  A few hundred yards along the right fork stood a group of chalets with lights shining in their windows and dark barns standing behind them.  Annette was nearly home.

ORIGINAL: Now, as she stood along among the snow and stars, it seemed a pity to go in just yet and break the spell.  She waited as she reached the steps leading up to the balcony and looked around.

NEW ADAPTION: The magic stayed with her, and now, as she stood alone among the snow and stars, it seemed a pity to go in just yet and break the spell.  She hesitated as she reached the steps leading up to the balcony and looked around.


Here are the covers I've been able to confirm are the original version and get a picture of (thanks to some helpful book-lovers at Reshelving Alexandria).   There are others that I either don't have a picture of or don't know whether it's the original version...

This is the original Treasure of the Snow cover featuring a girl and a boy in traditional swiss outfits playing in a field with mountains in the backgroud. This Treasures of the Snow Cover shows an illustration of a boy passed out on the edge of a cliff with a climber in the background.
Treasure of the snow cover from the the late 1970s or early 1980s featuring hand drawn illustration of a girl, a little boy and a cat, a boy skiing, with mountains in the background. This Treasures of the Snow cover shows a picture from the movie that was made from this book, on a blue background.
This Treasures of the Snow cover shows a picture from the movie that was made from this book, on a white background

Revised version of Treasures of the Snow with cover showing a girl in a red dress and white sweater in a field in front of mountains.