Especially with younger kids, hands-on activities help cement learning in our children’s minds. I might have told my kids that the Nile River was in Egypt 10 times, and they still probably would forget. By making a model of the Nile River delta not only did the words “Nile” and “Egypt” become a comfortable part of their vocabulary, but they learned several related facts as well. Not only was it a memorable learning experience, but my kids had fun working together which is always a plus when you are learning as a family.
Among the facts my kids learned were that the Nile Delta is triangular and that it opens into the sea. Also, the lower (southern) part of Egypt is at a higher elevation than the upper (northern) region which causes the river to flow up on the map. By making models of the pyramids and the Sphynx, they will remember that those landmarks are in Egypt. After reading about Egypt, one of my kids even decided to make a trash can to “put the brains in” since ancient Egyptians believed that particular organ served no purpose.
I actually did this activity with my kids over a year ago and it didn’t go exactly as planned. I’ve debated whether or not to even include these pictures or redo them. Since a whole year has passed and we have now moved on to the Middle Ages, I figured I might as well add it since it is instructive despite my failed vision. I may redo it someday. My original vision was that we would plant seeds along the banks of the Nile River, then we would pour water along the Nile to represent the banks of the Nile overflowing. We did this, and it sort of worked. I used garden cress seeds.
The problem was that I used my homemade playdough to create the Nile which is full of salt. As it would turn out, the expression “salting the earth” comes from the practice of pouring salt over the earth of those you defeated to prevent their crops from growing. Salt is not conducive to growing plants. I did have several sprouts, but very quickly, they all died. In the future, I would not use salt-filled play dough for the nice river. Maybe I would try using clay either colored blue from the store or painted blue after the fact.
If you are looking for a good reference book to go along with this activity, our family enjoys Time Traveler by Usborne. Not only does it discuss Ancient Egypt, you can also learn about the Middle Ages in Europe, the Vikings, and the Ancient Romans. If you are looking for even more ideas to supplement this activity, here is my post, Best Resources for Studying Ancient Egypt. You can also find more ancient history activities and free printables on my page, Ancient History Activities for Kids.
Nile River Delta Activity Details
- container such as a disposable 9×12″ casserole pan
- play dough or clay (I used homemade play dough, but if you would like to try growing seeds, I recommend clay. You may also want a couple different colors to show the river and the pyramids.)
- tray or cookie sheet to hold our model so it doesn’t get wobbly
- paint (optional, if your clay is not the desired color)
- seeds such as garden cress (optional, if you would like to try growing a harvest along the Nile River)
- First, you will want to fill your pan with dirt.
- Next get it wet to make it a little muddy.
- Move the dirt around so that it is higher on one side than the other. This will show why the Nile River flows north to south. The water is traveling from higher elevation to lower elevation.
- Use a picture of the Nile River to loosely sketch your river in the dirt. Make sure you include the Nile river delta in the lower elevation region! We used the Time Traveler book as a reference when we made our sketch.
- Use your clay to mold the river and lay it down on top of your lines. If you were not using blue clay, feel free to paint it blue.
- Next use the clay to scult some landmarks around the Nile River such as the Great Pyramids or the Sphinx.
Finally, just let your kids have fun! One of my kids decided to add some legs coming out of one of the pyramids as if it had fallen on a wicked witch.
If you are in the mood, try growing the plants along the Nile River to show how ancient farmers were able to use the flooding of the river to water their plants. Just remember, if you use play dough with salt, they will likely die quickly! One day when my younger kids are learning about ancient Egypt, I plan to try this again with clay.
Have fun learning about the Nile River!