From Mules to Machines


In the 1800’s the canal system changed the way freight was moved in our country. Learn more about how mules played an integral role in the canals and were later replaced by machines.


1. A mule is an animal that is part horse and part donkey. Mules are bigger and stronger than a donkey and hardier than a horse. They are ideal animals to pull heavy loads. Look at pictures of horses, donkeys and mules. How do their appearances differ?

2. Mules were used to tow or pull boats through the canals. The mules were attached to the boats by ropes. They would walk on a tow path and pull the boats through the canal at about 4 miles per hour. The boats could only travel as fast as the mules could walk. Look at pictures of mules from the canal era and discuss their role.

3. As the canal system was modernized, mules were replaced by machines. What types of machines replaced these animals? Were the machines an improvement to the canals? What are some of the benefits of using machines?

4. Commemorate the role that mules played in the canals by creating a sculpture of a mule out of Model Magic®. Make two egg-shaped pieces of modeling compound, a smaller one for the head and a larger one for the body. Roll 5 logs of Model Magic to create a neck and four legs. Model Magic that is fresh from the pack will stick to itself. Dried pieces can be glued together. Attach the legs to the body. Use additional pieces of modeling compound add details and features to bring the mule to life!

Safety Guidelines

Adult supervision is required for any arts & crafts project. Observe children closely and intervene as necessary to prevent potential safety problems and ensure appropriate use of arts and crafts materials. Some craft items, particularly beads and buttons, are potential choking hazards for young children. Avoid use of such small parts with children younger than 3 years. Craft items such as scissors, push pins and chenille sticks may have sharp points or edges. Avoid use of materials with sharp points by children younger than 4 years. Read all manufacturers' safety warnings before using arts and craft supplies.

Adult Assistance is required for this arts & crafts project.

Crayola Modeling Materials including Crayola Model Magic®, and Model Magic Fusion™, Crayola Air-Dry Clay, and Crayola Dough—

  • Keep away from open flames. Do not use to make candleholders, hot plates, trivets, or other similar objects that will be used or placed near fire and other heat sources.
  • Do not put in an oven, microwave, or kiln.
  • Do not make into vessels/containers that will hold unpackaged food.
  • The use of modeling material to make items that look like food is discouraged for children younger than age 5 to avoid their confusion with real food.
  • Unless sealed with a water-resistant glaze, do not make projects exposed to or immersed in water, such as boats or outdoor bird feeders. They would disintegrate when exposed to moisture.
  • Crayola Dough—contains gluten (wheat flour) as an ingredient.
  • Crayola Air-Dry Clay, Crayola Model Magic and Model Magic Fusion are gluten-free. However, they are produced on the same machinery as Crayola Dough which does contain gluten. Although the machines are cleaned prior to the start of each production run, there is a slight possibility that trace amounts of gluten from Crayola Dough may be present in the other modeling compound products. For information regarding specific ingredients or allergic concerns, please call our Consumer Affairs department at 1-800-272-9652 weekdays between 9 AM and 4 PM Eastern Standard Time.

Modeling Tools—Use the least dangerous point or edge sufficient to do the job. For example, craft sticks, plastic knives and forks, and cookie cutters can cut or carve modeling materials.


  • How has the transportation of goods changed from the 1800s to today? Create a timeline showing the technological progression of transportation. Add illustrations to highlight the text.
  • Visit the National Canal Museum in Easton, PA. Distance an issue? Check it out online at
  • Research the hydraulic powered machines used in today’s canals. Create a drawing showing how the machines are engineered.
  • A mule is an animal hybrid. Research other hybrids in the animal kingdom. What are the advantages and disadvantages of creating hybrids?

Related Lesson Plans

Lesson Plans

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crayola supplies
  • Model Magic®
household supplies
  • modeling tools



  • Grades 1 to 3
  • Grades 4 to 6


  • Science
  • Social Studies
  • Visual Arts


  • 30 to 60 minutes


  • Children identify the differences between mules, horses and donkeys.

  • Students discuss how mules were used in the canal system in the 1800s.

  • Students research the changes mechanization brought to the canal system and compare and contrast the animal-powered vs. machine-powered canals.

  • Children create a sculptural representation of a mule using a variety of modeling techniques.


Research Canada Standards
Research UK Standards
Research U.S. Standards