Deeper and wider engagement

Sefton-based education volunteer, Les Dundon, reveals the secrets of maintaining a child's attention in the popular 'Build A Canal' activity, run by the Explorers team.

Build a Canal

Build a Canal is a fantastic way of teaching children about industrial and local history. It’s more fun than sitting through a lecture or reading a book because children love to do things, and Build a Canal gives them that opportunity.

By using a sandpit, some wooden animals and bridges, small plastic shovels and lashings of water, children learn about digging the trenches to using animals to tread down the clay that lined the canals. In Sefton, we’ve taken the opportunity to engage more children more deeply by supplementing the basic kit with a variety of small props, introduced as the activity progresses.

Using props

The first prop to make an appearance is the engineer’s three cornered, 18th Century hat, purchased from a second hand shop. This is closely followed by the coloured pencils. Surveyors have always used high visibility sticks for marking routes, so when our engineer 'plans' his or her route, they can mark it in the same way that real engineers have always done.

Dress up

Next, we have the navvies’ uniforms. The peaked cap to keep the sun off their heads and out of their eyes, the neck scarf that keeps the sun off their neck, and the vital string around their trousers to stop small creatures crawling up their legs. We’ve recently added a toy rat to liven things up. Navvies are given plastic spoons to act as a shovels. Curiously, this focuses them on digging the canal carefully, rather than simply playing in the sand.

The 'puddling' activity is the next big change for us. The basic kit includes three animals, but why not have 10, for farm hands to stomp up and down our canal. Seven children fill the canal incrementally, because it rains most days.

Finally, we talk about the canal effect. Industry and commerce enabled by the canal. A simple bag of sugar (from a motorway cafe) represents Tate & Lyle’s massive sugar refinery in Liverpool, and cotton in all its stages of production represent the town of Burnley. Of course, all we need now is a mill owner and a factory owner.

Last date edited: 20 May 2016

About this blog

The Education Team

The Education Team delivers two main learning programmes. Explorers which is aimed at primary school children and uniformed groups, and STEM which is aimed at secondary schools. We provide free, curriculum linked learning resources for teachers and offer a range of outreach sessions to inspire children and young people about our waterways. Our fantastic Education Volunteers deliver sessions on the towpath or in school, bringing the stories of our waterways to life.


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