Have you seen a man-made volcano erupt before your very eyes? How about a crystal growing right before your eyes? It’s fascinating how these natural phenomena are now being put together into a small box to create a hands-on learning experience for kids and adults alike. These small boxes are called STEM science kits, which are definitely one of the best science experiments for kids.
Last Saturday my son, Jem, and I went to a local store to find a birthday present for his classmate. As we browse the toys section, I was surprised and excited to see a line up of STEM toys available on the rack. That was the first time I saw a certified STEM toy with an actual logo of “STEM” on the boxes in our local shops. They came from one brand – “Science Squad”. So without any hesitation, we picked up 2 boxes, the Volcano Eruption Kit and the Crystal Growing Kit. One for my 8yr old son & another for his just turned 9-year old girl classmate.
Jem chose the Crystal Growing Kit as a gift for his classmate over an artsy box of pens and different shaped drawing stencils because he knows for sure that his classmate will be more interested in seeing and learning how an actual crystal grow before her very eyes! He is equally excited to see how a volcano erupts. I typically just see those kinds of science kits being sold online. I was convinced about getting these as presents as I’m equally excited and curious to see how is it possible to emulate these natural phenomena that we could only see in academic books and videos. Now we actually have the opportunity to see them in the comfort of our own house right before our own very eyes!
Each box was on sale for 50% discount. The Volcano Eruption Kit was Cad$10 after the discount. I thought I found a great deal until I search on Google and found exactly the same items on eBay on sale 4 boxes for C$23.69, that’s just C$5.92 per box! Definitely a cheap science kits kids available in the market. See the below listing on eBay.
Another option is the item I saw in Amazon, check it out below.
After an action-packed birthday party, Jem was still excited about his Volcano Eruption Kit. Immediately after arriving home he insisted to un-box his new science kit.
Inside the box, we found: a plastic tube, a volcano base tray, a small bag of sand mix (3.53oz), a small bag of baking soda (0.35oz), a squeeze bottle with citric acid rock pieces (0.17oz), an instruction and a mini-poster of erupting volcano.
At first, Jem found the instruction a bit complicated as it requires specific measurements of water additions. I had to provide him the measuring cups and other required materials, like newspapers and paper towels. Since I was equally excited, we both read & followed the instructions together.
First, he connected the plastic tube to the volcano base tray, leaving approximately ½ inch above the hole on the crater’s side and fastening the rest of the tube substructure’s rim.
Second, we had to prepare the volcano mix by adding 13oz of warm tap water to the small bag of sand mix, kneading the contents to mix thoroughly. In this step, we found that the amount of water added was way too much! Doing exactly what the instruction stated (to add 13oz of water) just made the sand mix super watery, making it impossible to create a volcano crater and cover the volcano base tray with volcano mix. Imagine putting a volume of water equivalent to more than 1 & ½ 8oz baby bottles into 3.53oz sand mix. With that so much water, instead of creating a sand mix with a consistency close to play-doh clay, we actually ended up having a murky bath of water with the coarse sand settled at the bottom. We had to transfer the whole mix and water into a bigger container since there’s no way the 13oz of water can fit into a small plastic bag.
Third, we scooped out the sand to cover the volcano substructure. The instruction stated that after 5mins the sand mix is supposed to harden a bit and easier to sculpt but with the murky bath of water & sand that we had, we can only scoop out the sand without the sticky clay component because all of the clay ended up being suspended in too much water. Anyhow, we carried on and still covered our volcano base tray with the sand. However, we found that the 3.53oz sand mix is not enough to liberally cover the volcano substructure with a crater nicely formed on top of the volcano. We had to wait for 20mins to let the sand dry.
Fourth, I filled the bottle of citric acid ¾ full with tap water, creating a nice bright red solution. We also added a few drops of liquid soap to the citric acid for foamier, thicker lava. Another suggestion is to add yellow or red food coloring to the citric acid for a more colorful eruption. Apparently, three drops of red and three drops of yellow will create the most realistic looking lava.
Fifth, he added a teaspoon of baking soda to the crater of the volcano.
Sixth, we attached the loose end of the plastic tube to the opening of the squeeze bottle of citric acid, making sure that the connection is secured and that the other end is open inside of the volcano’s crater.
Finally, the structure is done! It’s time to erupt our volcano!
Jem firmly squeezed the bottle and the red foamy acid was forced to squirt out through the plastic tube and out of the volcano’s crater where it reacted with baking soda creating a lava-like flow towards the base of the volcano. He kept on squirting the citric acid as he was enjoying seeing the volcano erupting! There were a couple of times he squeezed so hard that the “lava” spewed out of the volcano’s crater violently that it landed into the floor a few steps away from the table! While the rest of the lava is continuously dripping from the crater towards the base of the volcano.
Jem certainly had fun erupting his very first man-made volcano. “It was a messy action!” he exclaimed, when he ran out of the citric acid to squirt, followed by “I want to build and erupt another one!”.
Too bad this science kit is just for one-time use only. All of the consumable components, like baking soda, sand and citric acid cannot be re-used. However, the plastic components, like the volcano cone and straw are re-usable. Just need to buy more of the consumable components and the same messy but fun action can be repeated again and again.
See below for the summary of the Pros & Cons:
- Price is cheap
- Very good hands-on learning experience
- Includes quick facts about volcanoes
- Components are safe to handle – Does not involve any flame. Baking soda and citric acid are safe to handle. According to MSDSOnline, baking soda or sodium bicarbonate is typically non-irritating to intact skin. Citric acid, on the other hand, is a weak organic acid used widely as an acidifier, as a flavoring and chelating agent, according to Wikipedia.
- Need more sand – Not enough sand to liberally cover the plastic cone to create a realistic volcano.
- Instruction is wrong – The instruction about putting 13 oz of water into a 3.53 oz sand mix made it impossible to build a nice looking volcano. I should have just followed my intuition of filling the small plastic bag with a little bit of water, enough to just create a homogeneous mix of sand, clay and water that is close to play-doh material consistency. That way the sand, clay & water mix can stick on the plastic cone and won’t get washed away by the “lava” spewing out of the crater.
- Messy –A lot of old newspapers and/or paper towels are needed to clean up the area after the activity.
- Consumable components are one-time use – Need to buy more or alternative consumable to repeat the same activity.
The idea behind the Volcano eruption Science kit is definitely innovative! It was able to emulate how a volcano erupts in a way that is safe and interesting for both kids & adults! The concept is well thought of.
The not so impressive part is the instruction on making the sand, clay and water mix, the 20 minutes wait time and the inadequate amount of mix available to build the volcano. Following the wrong instruction definitely messed up the appearance of the volcano and the overall realistic feel of the erupting volcano. We will definitely try another kit and make sure to create a proper sand mix consistency next time! 🙂
Will you be interested in making this Science Squad Volcano Eruption your next Science Kit activity with your little geniuses? Share your thoughts below! 🙂