Has your kid discovered volcanos and started asking questions like “How does a volcano spew lava?” No need to crack open an old text book (although, hey, learning is fun), here’s a basic explanation of volcanos as well as a fun activity to do with your kid!
So how exactly does a volcano work anyway? A volcano is a type of mountain formed when the Earth’s surface opens up to release molten rock in the form of lava. This lava usually lives deep underground—almost 1,500 miles down (that’s as long as the Great Wall of China!)—in a gigantic pool of super-heated liquid rock called magma. Whenever the Earth’s crust moves and cracks open, the magma can rise to the surface where it becomes lava.
Volcanoes have three basic features: a chamber where the magma wells up from underground; a central vent that leads from the magma chamber to the summit; and a summit crater where the lava exits. Volcanoes erupt when the magma builds up and the pressure becomes so great that it forces its way out of the vent. Sometimes this happens slowly, but it can also happen very suddenly.
Create Your Own Eruption
You can simulate a volcanic eruption by creating a chemical reaction that produces carbon dioxide gas. When the pressure of the gas builds up, it causes the solution to “erupt.”
Here are three basic recipes that you can use to create this reaction. Try them all with your kid to see which makes the best eruption!
If you have the ingredients (clay, plaster of paris, etc.) you can kick this fun project off by creating your own volcano… just don’t forget to create a hollow opening at the top for the “lava” to come out of!
If you don’t feel up to building a volcano, you can use a plastic cup, a beaker or soda bottle. You’ll want to secure and stabilize the container before adding ingredients, because hey, we’re making lava. One way to secure the container is to bury it almost to the top in sand or gravel.
Recipe 1: Baking Soda and Vinegar Volcano: Fill a container ¾ full with warm water. Add a squirt of dish detergent and 2 tablespoons of baking soda. Slowly pour vinegar into the bottle and stand back!
Recipe 2: Ketchup and Vinegar Volcano: Dilute some ketchup with warm water and add a squirt of dish detergent. Pour the mixture into a plastic soda bottle. Add baking soda. Then watch as the “lava” bubbles and oozes its way out of the bottle.
Recipe 3: Peroxide and Yeast Volcano: Fill a plastic soda bottle ¾ full of household hydrogen peroxide (3%) that you can buy at a grocery store. Add a few drops of food coloring to make it pretty. Then add a packet of quick-rise yeast to the bottle and stand back.
For more volcano erupting fun and amazing educational content, check out our National Geographic Earth Science Set.