trench warfare of world war 1

What was it like in the Trenches in World War 1?


One of the things I want my kids to understand when we study wars is war is sometimes necessary, but it is not glorious.  That is a hard thing to teach to young boys.  Young boys see glory and adventure, but that’s not what the trenches were like in World War 1.  So I create a trench simulation for World War 1 for our history lessons.

trench warfare simulation


After all this is a common sight with my boys, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  I want them to grow up and want to protect, that is a natural instinct.  But, you also want your boys to know when it is right and when it is wrong, and when to walk away from a fight.


So we simulated trench warfare, so they can find out what was it like in the trenches of World War 1.

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Supplies for an indoor trench warfare simulation

as many pillows as you can get, socks or bean bags (here’s how I make bean bags), and some Nerf Guns (my boys currently like this Zombie gun* and Nerf Ball gun, discontinued they now have this Mega Dart Gun)*

Preparing for your Trench Warfare simulation


indoor trench warfare simulation making mortars

First take some socks and roll them up to simulate mortars.  This could be why I haven’t been able to find socks for the past 2 weeks, I will blame it on this history lesson.

indoor Trench Warfare simulation


Next take all those pillows you grabbed and build up your trench. I set a 5 minute time limit.  Originally I was going to have the kids build trenches in our backyard for their army guys and fight with that, but we got a big rainstorm, so it was all mud.  Nevermind that plan.

Split into two teams, defenders and attackers.  Defenders get the mortars, and attackers will be charging the trench.  This lets you understand what it’s like from both sides.


Running your trench warfare simulation

trench warfare of world war 1

To make it more like the mortars being fired, the defenders had to throw their mortars facing backwards.  When they ran out of mortars they could turn around and shoot their Nerf guns.

The attackers were allowed to shoot their Nerf guns facing forward, but once they’d been hit, they had to “die.” This of course meant lots of dramatic sounding death scenes.


Here’s what we discovered in our World War 1 trench warfare simulation:

indoor trench warfare simulation for kids

1.  It’s hard to hit your target with mortars, but it does make the attackers more wary because they don’t know when they’ll be hit.

2.  It’s hard to take a trench.  You will suffer a lot of casualties.  Our simulations never successfully managed it.

3.  Guns are accurate, and if you have a good supply of bullets, you will kill your opponents.

4.  Not all guns are accurate.  One of our guns was the ball shooter, it was not as accurate, and did not have as many bullets.  That is a disadvantage.


After we talked through what we thought about the simulation, I printed off some of the pictures, and the kids all wrote about what they learned.


I loved Princess’ sentence: War is scary.  I did not like being shot at.


I think that sums up what most soldiers would say pretty darn well.


More World War 1 ideas

coming soon



23 responses to “What was it like in the Trenches in World War 1?”

  1. I really enjoyed this post. My husband and I were just discussing the other day how tricky it can be to teach a good deal of history and to do it age appropriately – so much of human history is in truth violent and involving war.

    1. I know. It’s a struggle, but I also believe that if we don’t teach them about our history than they will not have the proper tools to understand what is going on right now. We just finished reading about the 20s, and I’m seeing the seeds laid then for many of the problems we are having now. It’s been rather fascinating for me.

    2. I can absolutely see that – I look forward to reading more about your approach – don’t look now, but I’m getting ideas 😉

  2. Despite the war being scary, I have a hunch that the boys thoroughly enjoyed this lesson.

    1. Yes, they did. Which wasn’t quite my intent, but they did get that war was scary and many people died. So, part of the lesson was learned.

  3. Great post! Great idea! Much better than building a trench in the backyard, which is what my boys want to do.

    1. My boys did too. This seemed like a better long term solution. I don’t think Jeff would have wanted the backyard all dug up……

    2. Be sure of it, I do not want them digging a trench system in the backyard


    3. Ha, ha!! You should get together with my long suffering husband. There are many many things he is absolutely sure he doesn’t want, that nevertheless seem to creep into our homeschool. Mummifying a chicken comes to mind……

    4. Jeff wasn’t too thrilled with our mummified chicken either.

  4. maryanne @ mama smiles Avatar
    maryanne @ mama smiles

    I’m glad at least one of your kids understands that war is scary.

    1. Me too. I think the boys will eventually get it, but they’re young and invincible, and immortal.

  5. What a great way to illustrate the point. I should try this with the gun-happy 5 year old in my family.

    We were lucky enough to have a WW2 vet living next door to us at our last place, and he came over and told my older kids stories about what it was like to have to swim underwater and plant explosives on the German subs and try to get back without being caught – he was only a teenager too. The one that got to them, I think, was when he described having to blow up a bridge in France at sunset, knowing that it would kill innocent civilians just out for an evening stroll.

    1. Oh that would get to me too. One of our friends is a vet from the Iraq War, and I’m hoping he’ll make war sound less exciting as well. His main comments are its tedious, and hot, and tiring……..

  6. Excellent way to teach about wars! For us living in an apartment, this will definitely work for us. Thanks for linking up with me!

  7. I pinned this. It looks like a great hands-on activity. It must have been awful fighting. There are trenches from WWI less than an hour from our house and I hope to visit them when my daughter is a bit stronger.

  8. Wonderful hands on activity! I am going to pin this for when we get to a time period with trenches 🙂

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  11. I love it! What a great hands-on activity for a difficult modern history concept.

  12. This is great! We just read about trench warfare this morning in our WWI study. Guess we’ll be making our own trenches tomorrow.

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