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Ancient History: Making a Shaduf

  • September 19, 2023
  • By Donielle
Ancient History: Making a Shaduf

We are studying ancient history this year. Its the first time for my first grader and the last time for my 12th grader. One of my favorite things about teaching history is that it is such a hands-on, project heavy subject. There is so much you can do both inside and outside a classroom to make sure that what is studied is remembered. Sometimes I plan out the projects, but occasionally something just comes to me and I go off script into exploration-by-project. This happened last week. We made a shaduf.

Biblioplan and Story of the World

We use Biblioplan for studying history in co-op. But the beauty of Biblioplan is that it coordinates with other history curriculums. So, if you are in my position, that is teaching a 12th grader and a first grader history at the same time, and you want to integrate as much as possible because 1) its your kids’ last year learning together and 2) history is the hub of your entire curriculum, then you can use your favorite parts of Story of the World to supplement with your little one! The Story of the World Activity Book has fun coloring pages. When we color the Farmer using a shaduf, I was struck with curiosity. How did this thing work?

The project

This led to the spontaneous project. We built our own shaduf! Looking through the recycling bin, we fashioned a lightweight bucket from a milk carton and twine. The pool was our water source and potted plants the agriculture we were watering. Searching around the yard for shaduf building supplies, we started with a kid’s chair and a wiffle ball bat.

Child with chair making shaduf

A shaduf (sometimes spelled shadoof) is a hand operated machine for watering crops from a river or other body of water. So when we are studying ancient cultures and talking about them settling down to farm the land, the natural question is how did farming work without all the fancy equipment we have now? The shaduf was invented early on in human history and in some places is still used today! It works like this: Dip the bucket, which is suspended from the framework, into the water. Either the length of the pole or the weight at the other end helps pull the bucket of water from the lower level (water level) to the higher level where the irrigation ditch is, or some other apparatus to carry the water to the spot it is needed.


When we decided that our shaduf needed more height (from a tall backed lawn chair) to properly reach our flower pots, we soon realized the added height required additional length. A broomstick did the trick. We tried some different supplies and methods until we felt like genuine Egyptian farmers dipping out of the NIle or Sumerians along the Euphrates!

Child with lawn chair making shaduf

Shaduf making was a little bit of history, a little bit of science, and a lot of fun! It was an unofficial lesson in physics. My six year old had a blast trying different things and experimenting with simple mechanics. She won’t forget what may have otherwise been a passing factoid in her history career.

By Donielle, September 19, 2023
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1 Comment
  • Josie Mijares
    September 19, 2023

    I can see Melody really focusing on making this Shaduf. What a memorable teaching experience for both of you. You are a phenominal home school mom, Donielle!

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