Wednesday, August 24, 2011

It's a sad day indeed, when baking soda and vinegar no longer cut the mustard.

The stage had been set.  Books had been read.  Flour, salt and water was measured, stirred and squished.  Slowly the volcano took shape.  It looked a little like the mountain Richard Dreyfus kept seeing in the movie "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," but when three and four year olds sculpt a mountain for the first time, who expects perfection?  It sat out all night to dry, but was still a little squishy the next morning.  No matter!  There will be no delays in the eruption of this volcano!  The children applied brown paint, encouraged to paint the soft volcano gently.  We left it outside in the sunshine to dry during lunch and naptime.  After waking up from nap, we went outside and drizzled red and orange paint down the sides and around the top of the crater (which was supported by a water bottle around which the clay was shaped).  The sun was hot.  It did its thing.  The salt clay sculpture was hard to the touch.  The paint was dry.

It was a very impressive volcano indeed.

We brought the sheet cake pan with our beautiful, dry volcano proudly into the Play Room.  The children were so excited to show it off as their parents arrived to take them home.  I was very surprised no one poked or punched it while parents admired the volcano.  Usually children do very strange things when parents arrive to pick up them up at child care.  But this time they were subdued, genuinely protective, and very proud of what they had created.  I could tell by their behavior how much they liked the volcano. 

I was touched.

As each child arrived the next morning, first stop was to check on the volcano.  Parents wished us well.  Told us to have a great time.  A few wished they could stay.  Excitement was in the air. 


We had free play time as usual, waiting for everyone to arrive so we could get this show on the road!  Time for morning snack.  Very unusual.  Normally never-ending requests for refills didn't happen today.  Something was different, very different.  The children were so excited about erupting the volcano, it was affecting their appetite.  I hoped everything was going to go well.  I hadn't checked, but I hoped the baking soda hadn't expired.  It seems to last forever, but it doesn't really.  Surely it was still good......

Back to the Play Room for the beginning of 'school.'  The Happy House Cheer.  The Safe Keeper Ritual.  Wish Wells.  Hello Song.  During our Morning Meeting I suggested we invite the toddlers from our Infant/Toddler program my daughters operate next door.  They loved the idea, so we got a big piece of drawing paper and made an invitation for the little guys.  We drew a big volcano in the middle of the paper.  Each child drew lava and fire on it.  I wrote on top "The Big Happy House Kids Invite the Little Happy House Kids to Come See the Volcano Erupt today at 11:00 AM."  Each child 'signed' it.  We walked next door, one child rang the door bell and another handed the invitation to my daughter Tara.  They invited us in and called their little guys to come see what we brought. 

They promised to come.  The time was 10:45 AM.

I gathered the materials needed for the chemical reaction necessary for the eruption:  baking soda, white vinegar and red liquid watercolor, so the lava flow would be red like the pictures we had looked at in our books.  Whew, baking soda still good till Sept 2012.  Looking good......

We walked outside and sat the tray with the volcano on the frame of the outdoor water table. 

It was just the right height.  All the children, big and little, gathered around.  Everyone was very quiet.  I took a funnel and poured vinegar mixed with red liquid watercolor into the "crater" which actually was an empty water bottle hiding inside the volcano.  Then with a little flourish, I shook baking soda into the funnel.  It packed into the tube and would not budge.  Quickly I grabbed a stick from the ground and poked at the baking soda.  Suddenly the baking soda dropped into the vinegar.  The reaction was immediate.  Bubbles of all sizes, tinged pastel pink, poured out of the crater and spilled down the sides of the volcano.  I'm saying, "Look at the volcano erupting!  Look!  This is how the lava flows out of the crater.  Wow, look, guys!  Isn't this awesome?"  By the time the liquid got to the tray it looked like pale pink water.  Soon the bubbles stopped.  All the pink water stood at the bottom of the volcano on the tray.

No one said anything.  Their faces looked a little puzzled, but not really impressed. 

I picked up the box of baking soda again.  "Okay, let's make it erupt again!"  I just dump some straight into the crater.  Maybe the funnel and the stick stole some of the magic.....It starts to bubble again.  I look at the children. 

They look like they are watching a black and white movie with no sound. 

I think they're trying to figure out why I'm so excited.....why I hyped this volcano erupting thing for over a week, and then this is what it does?  Unspoken words hang heavy in the air, but I hear them all....."where's the fire; the lava's not gooey or red; what's that stinky smell?"  The pale pink bubbles fizzle and pop, leaving smelly pale pink water in the tray. 

Some of their noses are a little wrinkled, reacting to the smell of the vinegar.....or maybe their disgust at the pitiful showing of this volcanic eruption. 

We all stood there a few more seconds, then I said, "Okay, you can go play!"  All of them ran off to the playground, except one precious little girl who turns three next week.  She was still standing by the now quiet, wet volcano.  White powdery baking soda 'volcanic ash' covered some of the red and orange painted lava on the sides of the mountain.  She starred at the volcano, then looked up at me. 

"Miss Debbie, is the volcano going to erupt while we go play?" 

I looked down into her eager little face.  She didn't even know the volcano had erupted!   She was still waiting...... "No, Sweetie.  I think that's all it's going to do."  She ran over to the monkey bars and started climbing.  I just stood there, feeling a little cheated.  I wanted them to be impressed.  To 'oooouuu' and 'aaaaahhhh' and ask for it to erupt again.  I'd done this same project before with decent results.  I wasn't sure what I did differently this time.

This time the volcano eruption went over like a lead balloon!

While wondering how I could make gooey red lava flow out of a salt clay volcano NEXT time and still get an eruption to happen without using baking soda and vinegar, I heard excited voices urging everyone to "Come SEE!.......LOOK, LOOK, oh my gosh, LOOOOK!"  Two boys held up the two foot by four foot piece of plywood laying on the ground that we call the "Discovery Board."  All the other kids were squatting, leaning over, intently starring at the ground.  Three worms were sliding along the dirt in tracks they had made while hiding under the board.  Big beetles scurried to hide in their holes.  Three enthralled children cupped the worms carefully in their hands, proudly showing the wriggly creatures to me.  Another boy ran up to me, just as excited.  "LOOK!  Look what I found!"  He held up an empty, crispy brown cicada bug shell.  "Can I put this in the bug jar in the science center?"  "Sure," I said.  "Our bug jar needs a cicada shell."  He ran to show his friends what he had just found.

As we went in to wash hands before lunch, I thought about what had just taken place.  The best plans, the most outstanding projects, the most exciting activities.....sometimes they just fall flat.  On the other hand, the process of discovery, the time to explore, and the simplest things can be the most exciting and memorable moments of any day spent with children.

When the parents came to pick up their children, some asked how the volcano eruption had been.  The children were kind.  No one said it was stupid or boring.  No one said anything about the missing fire or red, gooey lava.  Some even acted like they liked it and said it was fun....but then the parents were taken to the science center to see the most exciting treasure of the day......the empty, crispy, brown cicada shell in the bug jar.

No matter what kind of curriculum is used or what kind of lesson plans are in place, the best kind of learning happens on the spur of the the drop of a hat........ in a teachable moment....... in an environment ripe with curiosity and exploration.

I think I learned as much as the children did on "Volcano Eruption Day."

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