Something is wrong with Woodland Park's world renowned volcano, the one we made nearly nine years ago under the steady guidance of Calvin, our resident volcano expert.
Three weeks ago we made a show of carrying it outside for a fiesta of eruptions, always one of our most popular group activities. We shook in a healthy dose of baking soda through a large funnel, added a nice squirt of liquid dish soap (to make for a frothier, longer lasting eruption), a squirt of orange liquid water color (because the lava we've seen in pictures looks orange), and then with much fanfare and flourish we poured in the vinegar, but only after passing it around so that everyone could have a sniff and say, "Ew!" or "Yum!" We whooped as the lava began to emerge from the vent, but then, after only a few seconds, it ended. Usually, our eruptions last for 5 minutes, at least.
So we went through the process again, but with the same disappointing results. That's when I decided to stick a chop stick (my tool for making sure all the baking soda gets through the funnel) into the vent and found that it could only be inserted a few inches before hitting something, not exactly solid, but definitely the cause of our problems. When I pulled the chop stick out it was tipped with a thick orange goo that we determined to be paint-tinted baking soda. The 2-liter soda bottle that serves as our magma chamber and conduit under all that paper mache was almost entirely full of 8 years worth of unspent baking soda, apparently impenetrable to mere white vinegar.
We tried turning the whole thing over and shaking it out, but it was clear to me that the weight of all that moist impacted powder was going to be enough to tear through our well-loved and well-used volcano's flanks, destroying it entirely.
Someone said, I don't know who, "We need to make a new volcano."
The next day when the children arrived they found this frame alongside a thin flour-water paste and newspaper:
By the end of the day, it looked like this:
It was a very thick first layer, very wet, but fortunately it was a hot day, so we left it in the sun to dry. On the following day, we added another layer to give it strong flanks:
There was a lot of talk about "boulders" amongst the children and if you look closely you'll see a small pile of them at the base of the slope.
The next day it was time to paint. We essentially swirled together primary colors until we got this wonderful eggplant-y shade:
The children, however, were not entirely satisfied, many of them feeling that it ought to be more brown and less purple, although others insisted that Mt. Rainier, the most prominent volcano regularly visible from our homes, did look purple in the distance.
Aesthetic differences aside, everyone was game for a bit more painting, so the following day we added another thick coat of paint:
One of the happy accidents that had made our original volcano so special was the addition of fistfuls of salt. I didn't have regular table salt at hand, only the coarser kosher salt, but it seemed like a distinction without a difference for our purposes. We salted and painted simultaneously:
I had to wedge a cork in the top because some of the 2-year-olds insisted on dropping their paint brushes into the vent.
This is how things now stand:
Holy cow, that looks good to me! I love the shape of our slopes and the surface has such a rich, complex color and texture.
I took the two volcanoes, old and new, and set them side-by-side in front of the class at circle time. We had a discussion about their differences and similarities. I then suggested that we would be ready for our first eruption once the paint was dry.
"It needs more boulders."
"What about the snow?"
"I want to put trees on it."
Oh this pains me, but I know we must press forward. I really love how it looks right now, but as is true with most of the art that gets created around here, it's just the phase of incredible beauty (in my eyes) that it must pass through on it's way to becoming something the children will call their own.
It's now been 2 weeks since the project began and still we've not erupted it. If we're going to add boulders, snow, and trees, I think we're looking at another week of work, at a minimum, before she's set to blow.
The longer it remains a work in progress the more it will be our own.