Last year I as we studied modern history I was excited to reach two particular events: World War 1 and World War 2. I had an excess of hands on history lessons I planned to complete with the kids. Our World War 1 unit was a huge hit, and our World War 2 unit was also a huge hit. One of the big changes between World War 1 and World War 2 was the effectiveness of airplanes in combat. To show how it would work the kids got to enact a World War 2 bombing run simulation. You can do this too, and probably already have all the supplies you need.
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Supplies for the World War 2 bombing simulation
Butcher paper* or something to create a large cityscape, markers, unsweetened Kool-aid mix*, sponges* (if this was summer and we could have gotten water balloons*, that would have been even better, also this is a terrible price, but it gives you an idea of the type I’m referring to), bikes
Prepare for the bombing run simulation
I feel like I have to say bombing run simulation each time I type it out because I don’t want anyone mistakenly thinking I really mean a bombing run, so just to be clear this is a World War 2 bombing run simulation, not a real one.
First, have your kids draw the city, make sure they include lots of distinct buildings as well as a few less distinct buildings. Unfortunately, our butcher paper was brown Kraft paper, I think the plain white would ultimately work better.
Once the kids are done make up your own small version of the map, trying to match it as close as possible. I used some tea-dyed paper to make the simulation feel more real, the kids were amused by that extra touch. We did all of this the day before our World War 2 bombing run simulation, so there was some time for them to forget what they drew, and to allow me a bit more set up time.
Right before you’re ready to have the bombing run simulation, take the paper city you’ve drawn and tape it down to your sidewalk or driveway (we used random weights from my husband’s weight set). Then mix up the kool-aid with water, but leave out the sugar, and allow the sponges to soak in the mixture. A couple of warnings: 1. wear clothes you don’t care if they get stained, and 2. be aware your hands will be dyed whatever color the kool-aid is.
It’s time for a (pretend) bombing run!
Give each of the kids one of the small maps you’ve made, and mark on their map their bombing targets. I gave each kid 2-3 minutes to study their map and even allowed them to ride over the city to familiarize themselves with it.
Let the kids draw a couple of bombs out of the “bombing vat” and bike over the city. Because it’s awful hard to guide a bike AND study a map, they’ll need to remember where the bombing locations are ahead of time.
Everyone took turns at this, and it was hard. The kids discovered it’s really hard to steer a bike and drop sponge bombs at the same time. This is why I didn’t add in the extra challenge of enemy fire. I had a thought of letting the other kids shoot them with Nerf guns while they were attempting the run, but it felt like overkill.
What did we learn from our World War 2 bombing simulation
Afterward, we met for our debrief, and we talked about what we learned. The goal for any hands-on activity is to drive home what they read earlier in their books, in this case, Mystery of History 4*.
- It’s hard. Most of the time we missed the target. It is very hard to steer the plan, aim the bomb, and not crash “the plane.” We talked about how later airplanes had a person for each job. One person in charge of flying the plane, another in charge of navigation, and another in charge of the bombs. Of course, there is no way to simulate that on a bicycle.
- Bombs cause a lot of collateral damage. Even if the bomb hit the intended target, building around were often hit. We talked about London sending their children up to the country (like in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe) to protect them from bombs.
- Maps are not always accurate. I did my best to draw my map like the aerial view of the city I saw, but I was not 100% accurate. It got better when bombing teams were given pictures, but even then one building top can often look like another top. It’s challenging to make sure you have the right target.
More hands-on history ideas
- pool noodle jousting
- World War 1 trench warfare
- Marco Polo market simulation
- small arms combat
- Liberty Bell craft
Originally published January 22, 2018