Experiments are great. What better way is there to spend time with your kids, have fun with them and teach them a thing or two about science? Even better when they’re messy and dramatic like the “volcano experiment”. As an experiment you can do at home, it’s simple, cheap, safe and fun. To learn how, follow this easy step-by-step guide.
The ingredients or “parts of the volcano” you will need can be usually be found around the house, so let’s see what you will need:
Base: A container shaped like a volcano, to hold everything in. This is the most fun part of making the fake volcano, because it gives a lot of space for you and your kid to play around and get creative while preparing for the experiment. The container can be almost anything, it just needs to be free of any holes: anything from a glass cup to a masterfully crafted, real-looking volcano replica is good. Since you’re doing this with your kids, go for the second. You can use clay, play-doh, plasticine, etc. If your kids are – and they likely will be – up for it, you can paint it together. Choose crazy colours and paint it like an Easter-egg, or more realistic earthy tones.
But why stop at painting? You can glue some rocks to your volcano, maybe add some grass, twigs, and make a small-scale replica of a famous volcano like Mount Etna or Mount Vesuvius. If you’re in a story-teller mood, you can add some tiny buildings, figurines, some background story and create a volcano of your own, name it after your kid or a family dog. The possibilities with this are endless, just use your imagination or leave it all to your kids, they are never-ending fountains of it.
Baking soda: You will need actual sodium bicarbonate, since baking powder won’t do. You probably have it around the kitchen or in the bathroom, and if not, you can buy it at a regular store for next to nothing.
Vinegar: You can use pretty much any store-bought malt vinegar. You can also get somewhat creative with this part as well by putting some food colouring in it. Use red and orange for realistic-looking lava, or go crazy with it and mix in blue, green and purple.
Paper towels: Since this experiment will end up a bit messy, you will need something to clean it. Simple paper towels will do just fine.
It is simple: Put some sodium bicarbonate in the container and add the vinegar. Since the baking soda is a base while the vinegar is an acid, the resulting reaction is a formation of carbonic acid, which is unstable and breaks apart into water and carbon dioxide. The result: A fizzing volcano!
Add more fun to your experiment by doing some of the following:
Time your reaction: Use a regular stopwatch, or the one on your phone to time the reaction. Play around with this by guessing what time it erupts: whoever is the closest wins!
Record your process: Most cellphones today come with a camera, if you already don’t have one of your own. This is a great way to capture the moment of not just the volcano, but your child’s reaction.
Add some variables: Change the amount of vinegar or baking soda, go for the most effective eruption. Try a more narrow container, or a wider one. Try cooling the vinegar or heat it up. Try lemon juice instead of vinegar, see what happens… Experiment around, after all, isn’t that the point?
Make it “more dangerous”: To add a touch of danger to this safe experiment, you can give your kid some goggles and rubber gloves, maybe even a lab-coat. Kids love doing dangerous things so you can trick them into thinking they are doing something more dangerous than it really is. Plus, you’ll all look more “sciency” this way.
Make a hypothesis: Develop a hypothesis on the volcano, as in a true experiment. Make some educated guesses on what you think will happen during the experiment. Write down your results and go for the best combinations and ideas. You can also help your child understand a little about the science behind the experiment in this way.
Make it a challenge: Since combining different measurements and other variables will lead to different results, you can make a challenge out of this little experiment if you have a few children making their own. Whoever wins, by making the best volcano, gets ice-cream, candy, pizza or a pass from a chore.
With this simple experiment, there is no way you can go wrong. Your kids will learn something new, without being bored. They will be little scientists, learning some basic chemistry which might help them in the future, all while having fun with their parents.