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.
MAKING THE BRICK MOLD
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
5" end pieces
6" side pieces
7" end pieces
6" side piece
You can of course go a little longer or shorter if you want, for different sized 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.
RESERVE A PIECE FOR PACKING MUD
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.
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
GETTING THE RIGHT DIRT
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).
MAKE YOUR BRICKS
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).
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.
3. (OPTIONAL) SEVERAL DAY STEP
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.
Primitive Technology: Making Mud Bricks
Off Grid Web, Written by Patrick McCarthy on September 27, 2017
Ultimate Guide to MudBricks
www.mummies2pyramids.info, unknown Author, unknown published date, accessed 3/8/2021.
Shared on Dear Homeschooler Bookshelf