Engineering in Action — I is for Irrigation

Mommy Crusader Preschool Units, School, STEAM Leave a Comment

We are continuing our unit on the letter I this week. Our unit included an engineering component. We live in a desert, and water is extremely precious here. Yet, for all the scarcity of water, the pioneer settlers were able to plant crops successfully using the engineering concept of irrigation. My preschoolers experienced this concept in a smaller area as they explored the lesson: I is for Irrigation.


Objective: to help children understand how irrigation works and why it is used in farms and gardens.

9×13 tinfoil pan with plastic cover
Peat Moss or potting soil
Watering can
Craft stick

Begin by explaining that all plants need water to grow. Talk about how important plants are to people. Talk about some of the ways farmers in your area water their fields.

Talk about how irrigation works. There are many different types of irrigation – flood, drip systems, and furrow irrigation, to name a few.  Irrigation is the process of bringing water to land so that the land able to sustain crops. Irrigation supplements water received by rain.

For this activity, it is also important to discuss furrow irrigation. Furrow irrigation involves creating hills with gently slopped ditches around the hills. The plants, or seeds, are planted in the hills. The water enters the field from one place and then follows the ditches around the hills, through the entire field.

After discussing how furrow irrigation works, it is time to start the activity. Begin by filling the tinfoil pans with the potting soil or peat moss. Make sure to keep the plastic covers.  Very gently, pat the soil down in the pan.

Now, have the children create their furrows for their seeds.  The children were told to make straight lines in the dirt that connected.  The children needed help not making the ditches too deep or too narrow. But, this allowed them to make the furrows a few times.  They learned that making the diches with their fingers gave them the best width. After the ditches were finished, the children cupped their hands to form to mounds more definitively.  Remind them that the seeds will go in the hills and that the water will go around the hills in the ditches.

Next, have the children pick what type of seed they want to plant. We planted cucumbers, watermelons, tomatoes, and peppers. (I plan to use the seedlings in our garden later).  Remind the children that seeds like being tucked into the soil, so they need to pat the soil down to make sure the seeds are snug.

Write on a craft stick what is planted in the field and place it in the pan.

Now, using something to hold the water, have the students water their fields. Make sure the students use the ditches to water their fields. This will show them, in miniature, how irrigation works in a big field.

Finally, place the plastic cover on the pan and place it in a spot that receives morning sunlight. Keep the lid on the pan so that the soil stays moist and warm. In seven to ten days the seeds should sprout.

At that point, take the plastic cover off the tin and watch the mini-garden grow.

My children really enjoyed this activity and were excited to watch their plants as they started sprouting. They really enjoyed watching the water as it flowed through the furrows. They would verbally encourage the water to continue down the furrows when it stalled in a lower part of the ditches.  And because of the plastic covers, they aren’t over watering the seeds either.

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