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How to Unthink a Volcano

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Volcano2

*embarrassing parenting moment alert*

I wasn’t sure what to do with ourselves today, as it was all rainy, until a friend of mine sent a message that it would be a great idea to make home-made volcanos. “Aha! YES!” Now, seeing as I haven’t made homemade volcanos in a while (I’m a high school science teacher), I had forgotten the perfect baking soda to vinegar ration needed to make the best explosion. I quickly googled ‘how to make a volcano’ and a million blog posts and wiki’s came up on how to make one. I instantly felt my mind get overwhelmed.

Oh geez, we have to actually ‘make a volcano’. Look these people have made theirs out of clay… well, we have clay… oh but it will take an hour to dry… and these people made theirs out of newspaper… oh, but then we have to paint it and it has to dry… and these people put yellow and red food colouring in theirs… well, we have red and yellow food colouring. And, what really made it worse, was my chemistry teacher mind started to analyze. I was thinking, a ‘homemade volcano’ doesn’t actually stimulate a volcano at all, with molten lava, it’s really a chemical reaction. So, then, I started thinking at it from a chemist’s point of view… which one is the limiting reagent (meaning which one will stop reacting first), etc. My mind got so caught up in making ‘the perfect volcano experience’ that before I knew it, the kids had started fighting.

I starting getting really mad at them, telling them they needed to stop and in my head I was screaming, “Would you shut the f*ck up, I can’t even think!!!

Then, I stopped.

What was I doing?! My kids are 4 and not even 2! What. The. Hell. They don’t care what their stupid volcano looks like! And, what would they learn if I had gone through all of this trouble to make sure that we made some perfect volcano replica chemistry/art project? What, that I get stressed every time they have to ‘learn’ something?! (My friend who reminded me to make volcanos is probably laughing at me if she’s reading this). Oh, dear me…

So, I got off Pinterest or whatever I was looking at, and asked Margo what sort of container she would like to use. “A CUP!” She exclaimed. Ok, so, I got a cup. I said, “Here’s baking soda and vinegar, let’s see what happens if we put them together.” I also grabbed a big plastic tray to catch any overflow. She poured some vinegar in, then she put the baking soda in and voila! A volcano!

LET’S DO IT AGAIN!!!” She cried. (the little one was scared and only wanted to watch).

Ok.” I said.

We did it again. And again. And again. By the end of it, do you know that she figured out all by herself how to find the perfect ratio of vinegar and baking soda to make the most impressive reaction? Not Pinterest. Not me (the chemistry teacher). It was her, a little four year old, who by trial and error found out how to do a chemistry experiment without me telling her a damn thing. To her, she was practicing her pouring skills and her coordination just to try and not spill anything! Maybe if she were 16 years old, then we could talk about what was really going on. And, if she were really keen, maybe one day she would want to make a volcano out of clay and paint it and pretend that it was real. But, for now, she was just happy to overflow her cup. Over and over again until all the vinegar had been used up.

It’s really amazing what kids can do if us stupid adults, with our preconceived notions of how things should be, can just step out of the way. She had such a blast and her mind was free to come up with her own conclusions based on her observations. Next time she asks to do this experiment, I’ll be sure to buy a much bigger bottle of vinegar!