Building Homemade Volcanoes

Building a homemade volcano is a timeless classic among science experiments. With so many different construction methods, even the busiest of homeschooling families can find a way that will work well for their family. If you feel like building a volcano at home is a daunting task, but also don’t want your children to miss out on this experience, don’t worry! We’ve tested a few different options to help you get started.

Our family was blessed with a beautiful weekend, so we chose to construct all of our volcanoes outdoors in the warm sunshine, but you could easily build yours inside. For an indoor volcano, I suggest building it in a large cake pan or on a large cookie sheet with an old towel underneath to soak up any overflowing lava.

#1- Dough Volcano

Our first volcano was truly homemade, using two dough recipes created by a member of The Good and the Beautiful team. Although it did require mixing up our own doughs and layering the two to form the volcano, it took less time than you might think, and it wasn’t even necessary to bake the dough. These easy doughs can be made using the following recipes:

Dough RecipeSand Dough Recipe
3 cups flour
1 cup salt
1 cup water
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
Mix all ingredients in a large mixing bowl until the texture and stickiness is to your liking. If it is too wet, add a spoonful of flour. If it is too dry, add a spoonful of water. This dough will represent your lava layer. 
2 cups flour
1 cup sand
1 cup salt
½ cup water
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
Mix all ingredients in a large mixing bowl until the texture and stickiness is to your liking. If it is too wet, add a spoonful of flour. If it is too dry, add a spoonful of water. This dough will represent your ash layer.

Here are the remaining supplies and ingredients needed for your volcano:

Volcano SuppliesLava Ingredients
Bottle with a narrow opening
Plastic straw
Masking tape
Baking soda
Food coloring
Dish soap
Vinegar

After making both types of dough, we gathered the other necessary supplies and ingredients. We used a 20-ounce soda bottle and a straw to form our magma chamber. You could use a larger bottle instead if you don’t mind mixing more dough and creating more lava.

Start by poking two holes in random places on your bottle, just big enough to fit a straw into. Cut your straw in half and stick one end of each piece into each of the holes; then secure them with masking tape. These straws will serve as side vents for your volcano. Set your bottle in the middle of your pan or directly on the ground if you are outside. 

Now it’s time to create your layers. Roll out each type of dough and start to build up your volcano around the bottle, alternating the regular (lava) dough and the sand (ash) dough. The thickness of each layer is up to you; be creative! Be sure to leave your straw pieces sticking out for now. Once you’ve formed your cone-shaped volcano all the way to the rim of your bottle, trim the straw pieces so that the ends are flush with the sides of the volcano. Now it’s time for the eruption! 

For the lava, we basically used the same recipe for each volcano, but our measurements weren’t always exact. There’s definitely wiggle room to play around with different amounts of ingredients. 

First, add 1/3 cup of baking soda to your magma chamber (bottle). Then add about a teaspoon of dish soap for an extra foaming effect, and top it off with several drops each of red and yellow food coloring. Last, when you are ready for the action, pour in ½ to 1 cup of vinegar and watch the eruption.

I loved the different textures on this volcano because it provided a great teaching opportunity to explain the composition of real-life volcanoes. In the interest of time, this was the only volcano that we built with straw vents, but they were a really cool addition that added some extra excitement to this fun project.

#2 – Clay Volcano

Volcano SuppliesLava Ingredients
Bottle or cup
Plastic straw (optional for side vents)
Masking tape (optional for side vents)
Air-dry clay 
Baking soda
Food coloring (or washable paint)
Dish soap
Vinegar

Next, we built a more basic volcano using air-dry clay. We decided to build this one up around an eight-ounce disposable plastic cup, and we found it worked just as well as the bottle magma chamber. Use whatever you have on hand! We didn’t wait for it to dry before our eruption, but if you want to make yours look a bit fancier and more realistic, let it dry first and then paint it. 

We also put a slightly different twist on the lava this time. We used the same basic recipe but we substituted roughly two ounces of a combination of red, yellow, and orange washable paints for the food coloring. The result was very pretty, richly colored lava. Using washable paint is a great idea if you are building your volcano indoors since it won’t stain like food coloring.

This experiment is part of The Good and the Beautiful Geology Unit Study. This one-of-a-kind 132-page unit is filled with breathtaking free videos, interactive lessons, and Grades 7–8 Extensions. The optional Geology Read-Aloud Book Pack (view sample) expands learning as children uncover the mystery and wonder of our world in two original publications.

#3 – Dirt Volcano

Volcano SuppliesLava Ingredients
Bottle or cup
Plastic straw (optional for side vents)
Masking tape (optional for side vents)
Dirt or mud
Baking soda
Food coloring
Dish soap
Vinegar

The last volcano we built was the easiest to make and the least expensive. For this one all you’ll need to have on hand is the lava ingredients and a bottle or cup for your magma chamber because the rest is built from nature. 

Find a small area of dirt or sand that you don’t mind digging in. If you’re building your volcano in winter, you could even try using snow! We reused our 20-ounce bottle from the first volcano because we wanted our final volcano to be a little taller than the cup we used for Volcano #2. We chose an empty spot in our flower bed and lightly sprayed it with a water hose. Then we dug down just deep enough to make a cozy little spot for our bottle to sit in. We began to build up the dirt, rewetting it as needed to help it stick together, and created gradually sloping sides right up to the rim of the bottle. 

Real volcanoes come in different shapes and sizes, and yours can too! We also decorated this volcano by searching our backyard for plants and rocks to lay around the base. My kids played with this one for quite awhile, continuing to gather more things in our yard to be overtaken by the lava.

With so many variations to choose from, there is sure to be an option that is just right for your family. Your volcano can be as small and simple as taping duct tape all the way around the rim of a cup diagonally down to the base it sits on or as large and detailed as using a two-liter bottle, painting your own homemade dough, and creating an elaborate scene around it.

We hope this post has inspired you to go out (or stay in) with your family and make your very own volcano. Feel free to get creative with different mediums, ingredient amounts, and colors. Be sure to have your child record the experience in his or her science journal with descriptions and drawings or photos. We would also love to see what you came up with in the comments below! Building a volcano is such a fun, educational project that is sure to provide your family with wonderful, lasting memories.

Building Volcanoes!

Other Resources

Nature NoteBook
Geology
The Good and the Beautiful Library
Creative Writing
Ecosystems

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Comments

  • Tatiana

    You guy are the best! Thanks for tips it really helped!

  • Jess

    Can you reuse the dough/air dry clay volcanoes? Or does the eruption ruin them?

    Thank you!

    • The Good and the Beautiful

      Thank you for your interest, Jess! You should be able to complete the project a few times in the same day, but it is not something you would be able to keep to complete again at a later date. Let us know how it goes!

  • The Good and the Beautiful

    How can we help you, Jamya?

  • The Good and the Beautiful

    Hi Debe! What a fun science fair project. The holes and straws are optional to create side vents which often occur in volcanoes. You an learn more in our Geology science unit if desired but here is an overview from that science unit: “Side Vent: When cracks or dikes branch off from the main conduit and then open at the surface of the side of a volcano, a side vent forms. Some volcanoes have many side vents, creating several layers of hardened lava.”