MFA Kids | Learn About Civil Engineering

What is Civil Engineering?

Civil engineers are responsible for lots of things our society needs. There are many types of civil engineers. They design roads, bridges, airports, railroads, buildings, dams, landfills, drinking water systems, sewer systems, and stormwater drainage systems. Civil engineers use math, science, physics, and lots of creativity every day, and they are always seeking innovative ways to make society function better and safer.

Civil engineering is known as one of the oldest fields of engineering, going back thousands of years. Ancient civil engineers designed and built incredible structures like the Egyptian Pyramids, the Roman Aqueducts, and the Great Wall of China. Modern civil engineers designed and built structures like the Golden Gate Bridge, Hoover Dam, and the Panama Canal. Modern civil engineers also build things you may not even notice because they are buried underground (pipes and sewers to make your sinks and toilets work), built out of sight (landfills your garbage gets sent to), or be so common you don’t even think an engineer is responsible for them (roads, railways, and bridges that we use every day). And civil engineers are working toward the future, designing recycling plants and filtration systems to protect the environment from pollution.


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1. Watch the Video

Watch this CrashCourse video on civil engineering and try to think of other famous civil engineering projects.

2. Complete the Activity

When rain falls on roads, parking lots, buildings, and other man-made structures, it collects pollution and particles and carries them to water bodies such as creeks, rivers, and eventually the ocean. These pollutants such as oil, rubber from tires, trash, and various metals or chemicals can be very harmful to the environment and the plants and animals that depend on them, including humans!

One job of a civil engineer is to design ways to remove pollution from rainwater before it gets to the natural environment and waterways. Civil engineers also design water treatment systems that clean pollutants and other harmful substances from water before it is piped to your sinks and showers at home.

This experiment shows one way that you can build a water filter to remove pollution from dirty water. The video recommends using dirty pond water or something similar, but maybe try mixing other things such as vegetable oil from the kitchen, sawdust, or larger items like grass clippings so you can see how well this works at removing pollutants and particles.

** Experiment is for demonstration purposes only


  • Plastic water or soda bottle
  • Crushed Charcoal (from a fire pit or lump charcoal from the store is preferred)
  • Sand
  • Cotton Ball

Optional Activity

Pollution can even gather on the roof of your home or your driveway. Plants and soil can be very effective at removing pollution, much like a wetland can clean water naturally (nature is full of great ideas!). Here are two possible build-your own options (with help from an adult) to collect rainwater and make it cleaner before it leaves your house:

  • The Grattix, a rain garden in a box that can be connected to the gutters
  • Simple Rain Garden, build it in your yard

3. Complete the Coloring Page

Time to color! The Great Wall of China is one of the great wonders of the world, and a civil engineering marvel. Show us your creativity and artistic talents. Would you add anything to the Great Wall?

Click here to download the coloring page.

4. Show Us Your Stuff

Take a picture of yourself watching the video, doing the activity, or coloring, and share it with us by using the form below! You just need to complete one of this week’s activities in order to receive your MFA Kids badge for Civil Engineering.


MFA Kids Activity 5 Completion

Take a picture of your completed activity this week. Have a grown-up help you upload the picture to this website and we will send you your first MFA Kids badge! Great job!
  • Please provide your mailing address if you would like to receive a prize for completing four activities in the mail.


Ask a Civil Engineer a Question
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Jacob M. Faust, PE

Senior Engineer

(503) 501-5224