Knowledge to build on

19th September 2003 at 01:00
Your forum for practical tips and ideas

We created this activity, combining discussions about refugees with making a temporary shelter, for a Year 6 design and technology project in Refugee Week.

I started with a circle time discussion on what it means to be a refugee and the reasons people leave their country, such as war, natural disasters and political persecution. Our refugees in the class seemed happy to talk about their own experiences. We made it clear that they didn't have to, but their willingness made the activity feel more real.

We discussed what children would like to take with them if they had to leave their homes suddenly and what kind of problems they might encounter, for example lack of water and shelter.

The next part of the activity took place outside on the grass. In groups of five or six, the children imagined they were refugees and had just arrived at a refugee camp, where they were going to build a temporary shelter. It had to be able withstand wind and rain and provide cover for the whole group.

Before they started, the children were told how to fasten bamboo sticks together with string and were given a demonstration of how some shapes were stronger than others. For example, a triangle is a very strong, but a square, unless braced diagonally, will move very easily. I showed them some pictures of structures - tepees, tents and other shelters - known to withstand the elements.

We gave them bamboo sticks, string and rubber bands, plastic sheets, carpet rolls which we got free from a carpet shop and tent pegs to hold down the sheets. Building their shelter involved a lot of experimentation and teamwork, which they enjoyed.

The idea came from the Henry Palmer Award, a competition organised by the Institute of Civil Engineers to get children interested in engineering. email:

Daisy Harman, Ravenstone Primary School, Wandsworth

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