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Dinosaur Discoveries


Help your child understand how a volcano forms and what causes it to erupt.


  • cookie sheet with edges
  • play dough, either store-bought or homemade (Note: There are many recipes for homemade playdough online.)
  • baking soda
  • vinegar colored with red food coloring
  • plastic spoons
  • small measuring cup


  1. Ask your child, “What is a volcano?” Help her understand that a volcano looks like a mountain that shoots out very hot rock, smoke, and ash. “Where does all this hot stuff come from?” Answer: Inside the Earth. Explain that the inside of our planet is SUPER hot, so hot that rocks there are melted. This melted rock under the surface is called magma — and is more than 1000 degrees. For comparison, you can point out that boiling water — is only a couple hundred degrees (F). When this melted rock (magma) blasts out of a volcano — it name changes, and is now known as lava. Help your child understand that lava and magma are the same substance — it’s just that lava is what it is called when it escapes. This blasting out of lava is called an “eruption.”
  2. Show the Cross-section picture of a volcano, and point out all the parts: lava, magma, steam, and so on.
  3. Show your child the video clip of a volcano eruption from Dinosaur Train, above.
  4. Explain that he is going to make a model of a volcano eruption. Have your child make a mountain out of playdough and use her thumb to press down an indentation at the top. Then have your child use a small spoon to put at least a teaspoon of baking soda in the top of the volcano. Next have her use a small measuring cup to SLOWLY pour a small amount of red vinegar on the baking soda. Have them look closely and describe what they see. (NOTE: As an alternative to playdough, vary this experiment by creating a volcano out of a pile of dirt or sand.)

Take It Further

  • Your child can experiment by mixing different proportions of baking soda and vinegar in their volcano. If she doubles the amount of baking soda for example, will it make more bubbles?
  • Your child can use library resources to learn more about what real volcanoes look, sound and smell like. When a volcano erupts, the gases (containing sulfur) make the volcano smell like rotten eggs.
  • Learn more about active volcanoes in the world today. Many your child will be surprised to learn that most volcanoes in the world today are UNDER water.

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