DIY Volcano: Science and Fun for Toddlers

Recently, two of my closest mom friends created homemade volcanoes with their three-year-olds. Neither one of them knew the other was making one, it was just a fun coincidence! After my daughters and I saw all of the fun, we had to jump on the bandwagon. We began by searching for some instructions online. My girls love Play-Doh and kinetic sand, so I decided we would make a clay volcano. My friends made spectacular volcanoes out of paper mache, but I wanted the added step of mixing and molding the clay. I figured we could break it out into a few different activities. I followed the instructions by Storm the Castle (mostly).

My favorite thing about this activity was how different everyone did their volcanoes. My friends are highly creative — one painted a volcano with her son — and my other friend made one with her twins and they buried it in the garden so it looked real as it erupted! My daughter loves painting and glitter, so we created what I fondly called, the “Glittercano.” Hazel, my three-year-old, called it “Mount Volcanobano,” named after her favorite breakfast food her daddy makes, “Volcanobano” pancakes (Dutch pancakes, for you Original House of Pancakes fans).


Anyway, we had so much fun mixing the dough, which was a simple mixture of flour, salt and water (like homemade Play-Doh). We made it on the kitchen counter and both of my toddlers got into it (in every respect). We counted as we measured, we talked about the concepts of addition and fractions and… we made a huge, fun mess! We also got some toddler aggression out with lots of squishing and banging of dough on the counter. It was a highly successful (and therapeutic) activity — and we hadn’t even made the volcano yet!


Next, I wrapped a bottle in plastic and put it inside a cat food box which I wrapped in aluminum foil. I recommend just taping a plastic garbage around it instead. I ended up doing that later to keep all the “lava” inside the box. (The aluminum foil looked cool with the glitter, but it wasn’t entirely useful that way.) After I placed the wrapped bottle inside the wrapped box, I broke the dough into a few pieces and we all flattened them together.


Then, I let Hazel go to work placing the dough around the bottle to shape her very first volcano. My one-year-old, Lola, was more interested in the dough on the counter at this point, so Hazel shaped the volcano on her own. I gave some guidance, but mostly, she just did it. After learning about volcanoes (National Geographic has a good fact sheet and video) — the different types, how they erupt, the effects of lava, and what they look like — she was an expert by this point.


As she finished up, I helped her shape the top and we smoothed out any cracks so she could paint it. The following step in our instructions said to let the clay dry. I expected she’d be ready for a break, but she was ready to paint, so I let her.


My daughter used four colors of paint: two shades of brown and two shades of gray. After she painted until her heart’s content, she asked for some glitter. I’ll be honest, she spent as much time doing glitter as she did painting! It was really fun to watch her shake glitter and then use a paint brush to fill in all the spots that needed, “More glitter please, Mommy!” (She even got some inside the volcano, which made for some sparkly lava later.)


When she was done, we set it on the table to dry over night. Until then, we talked about Te Ka the lava monster in “Moana,” and how maybe she would visit us tomorrow when we did our science experiment and let the volcano erupt.

The next morning we added dish soap, water, and red food coloring to the volcano. I mixed it and then added baking soda. Finally, we were all ready to watch it erupt. We poured in some vinegar and WOAH, were the kids excited (let’s be real, my husband and I were super into it too)!


We had Mt. Volcanobano erupt at least a dozen times. It was such a fun experience watching my daughters’ faces light up as we cheered and talked about volcanoes, science, glitter and all things Moana. After a couple eruptions, Hazel was ready to pour vinegar inside herself and my younger daughter was off dancing to “Moana” songs. It was a lot of fun and I’d definitely do this again.

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