Months ago, Jhonen saw a Target commercial that featured kids in a classroom erupting a model volcano and he said, “I want a volcano birthday this year!”
Day after long day, week after long week passed, and this poor kid thought his birthday and his long-awaited volcano party would never arrive. As the weeks went by, the volcano party evolved into more of an all-around natural disaster theme. Tornados, avalanches, hurricanes and other destructive forces fascinated my own little destructive force of nature.
I tried to take the party in more of a weather themed direction by adding a make-a-rainbow activity and a sunshine pinata, but he wanted none of it. He made it clear that only something that “could destroy a town” was allowed. A highly insensitive party theme, considering we’re just coming off Hurricane Sandy, the California wildfires, and now these Colorado floods, but…the kid made himself very clear and I love a theme, so natural disaster party it would have to be.
The party could have been held anywhere, but I needed a place without too many distractions, i.e. no playgrounds, because I was afraid my little homemade activity centers wouldn’t hold these 3-6-year old’s attention. I opted to have the party in the community room at our housing complex.
This party went through many iterations in my head. I thought up and nixed a dozen different ideas before settling on a few that seemed like they’d work the best. Here are the highlights:
I knew guests would not all arrive at once, so I kept the opening activities unstructured. I set out a few natural disaster-related activites, demonstrated how they were supposed to work, and then let the kids have at it. We had an earthquake table with two activities on it. First, we set out a pan of Jell-O that had plastic wrap over the top and then provided a box of sugar cubes. The kids were then meant to build sugar cube buildings on the Jell-O and then lightly knock on the pan to see if their building could withstand the “quake.”
The second activity demonstrated how tectonic plates rubbing together can make the ground shake. Place two long, narrow cardboard strips next to each other slightly hanging over the side of a table. Then put a piece of green or brown felt (the ground) on top of the strips and some little plastic toy animals on top of the felt. Then, grab the overhanging ends of your cardboard tectonic, make them rub forward and backward against each other in alternating directions and watch as your little animals all fall over!
We made a tornado in two, two-liter bottles using a tornado tube connector widely available for purchase online. It was a little tricky for the little ones to do on their own, but easy for the adults and the effect was really cool. The kids LOVED watching the water tornados!
Finally, we had an avalanche/blizzard table where kids could pile marshmallows up into a mountain, push the mountain over and watch the marshmallow avalanche crush the unsuspecting Lego knights down below. Some kids preferred to just rain the marshmallows down on those knight’s little yellow Lego heads for a more blizzard-like effect.
We played with the disaster centers for awhile and ate the loosely-themed food options. Some nacho cheese Bugles and turkey and cheese spiral sandwiches made great tornadoes, but trail-mix rubble and the gigantic avalanche of Pirates Booty worked ok, too.
The adults had some Hurricane cocktails to calm the nerves in case the atmosphere in the room got a little too dangerous.
After our snacks, it was time to bring out the volcanos! I knew getting eight volcanos made and successfully erupted without ruining anyone’s clothes or the carpeting in the community room might take a great many practice runs on my part. To save anyone else the trouble of much trial and error and many web searches/Pinterest scouring, I will share the entire process in detail for anyone that may want to replicate this volcano action for your own party. There are MANY ways to accomplish the same end here, but this is how we did it:
1. My husband scavenged these cute, squatty 8 ounce water bottles from a good friend’s birthday party earlier in the month. I later discovered the same bottles can be purchased in bulk at Costco. I had never seen that shape bottle before…already shaped a bit like a volcano! Make sure to save the caps.
I prefilled the bottles with this mixture:
- 1/2 cup water
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- a squirt of dish soap
- 2-3 drops of red food coloring
At the party, I handed out a bottle, lid ON, to each child with a heavy-duty, extra-large paper plate, along with a Ziplock baggie of salt dough that I’d made ahead of time. I thought about having the kids mix their own salt dough, but opted against it because of their age and timing concerns.
The salt dough recipe I went with was from here. Just mix the following ingredients in a big bowl, turn the dough out onto a flat surface and knead it until it’s smooth and nicely pliable. The first time I made it, I followed the directions and waited to add the food coloring until after the other ingredients were mixed. I didn’t love it that way, so I tried to mix the coloring in with all the other ingredients and I didn’t love that either. Just keep mixing and it eventually works.
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 cup salt
- 3/4 cup water
- food coloring (I used green and red and mixed it in along with the rest of the ingredients, though it took a long time to get the color to stop being streaky. There’s probably a better way, but it worked in the end.)
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
After making one batch as directed, I determined that I could make two good-sized volcanos out of each batch. The day before the party, Jhonen and I whipped up five batches of this stuff all at once, which was fine until it was time to mix it all together! An hour later my husband and I had very achy hands and a TON of mildly gray salt dough. I divided it up into ten equal balls and put each ball into the individual sandwich baggie that was handed to each child at the table.
I instructed the kids to cover their bottle with the salt dough, but there were two important rules: leave the cap ON and do not cover the cap with ANY dough. They covered the bottles just fine and maybe a little faster than I’d expected. The dough really molded nicely to the bottles and wasn’t sticky enough to even require immediate hand-washing afterwards.
I had the birthday boy remove the cap from his bottle and watch carefully as I poured vinegar into his bottle from a bigger water bottle I’d pre-filled with plain white vinegar earlier that day. (You need about a half a cup of vinegar per volcano). I thought about giving out small cups of vinegar for the kids to pour into their own bottles, but figured that might lead to trouble, so I did the pouring).
It was interesting to see that every volcano erupted a little bit differently! I wonder if that had to do with slight variations in the amount of vinegar I added to each volcano or if some kids shook their bottles around more than others. I also noticed that it was necessary to remove each child’s erupted volcano right after the eruption so as to avoid any “lava” from going everywhere. Anyway, it was really fun to watch each of the volcanos erupt and not one volcano’s lava went over the sides of any of the plates. Success!
I was worried about erupting the volcanos over salt dough that hadn’t hardened, but that was not a problem at all. I even noticed, after previous experiments, that the salt dough volcano will still dry over the course of about 24-48 hours, even after eruption. The bottles can be washed out and the volcanos reused!
After the volcanos, the kids went outside to my husband who, looking out for his nervous wife, made sure that there were water balloons to play with just in case the natural disaster activities I’d had planned turned out to be disasterous. He figured, as long as there were water balloons at the party, the kids would be sure to have fun.
He divided the kids into two teams of four: Team Ice and Team Fire. Then the two teams threw blue and red balloons, respectively, into their correspondingly marked buckets.
The battle raged on for about ten minutes and, of course, ended in a tie.
While the kids tossed water balloons, I raced to get the chocolate lava cakes I’d made reheated and my red and orange chocolate candy pieces melted. I made lava cakes in those extra-tall muffin tins from IKEA ($10) so they were volcano shaped.
I planned to have the kids drip oozy orange and red chocolate “lava” over the top of their plain chocolate cakes. I thought about using the icing tubes (what I should have done), but wanted all the kids to work on it at the same time and, when I saw that each tiny tube was more than $2 apiece, I decided to just get the bags of chocolate pieces, melt them and let the kids scoop up the chocolate in spoons and drizzle the hot lava over the top.
After reading the back of the candy piece bag, though, it said you could put the chocolate into Wilton plastic disposable frosting bags (I already had a bunch of those at home!), melt them in the microwave, cut the tip and go to town! Perfect! Except…I got a little greedy and wanted to speed things along. I microwaved the frosting bags full of chocolate all at once and the plastic bags melted to each other, the chocolate came out scorching hot and barely squeezable. I salvaged the bags I could and it still came out ok…not as I’d imagined, but a fun activity and the kids didn’t really care or notice.
I was still glad that I had a big, delicious earthquake cake for the adults (especially after I tasted the lava cakes which just…didn’t tast that great). I definitely endorse this earthquake cake recipe, though! Yum! Here is the Earthquake Cake before it was baked.
And here’s a slice!
The kids couldn’t resist opening presents and then playing with them while the adults dealt with the natural disaster party’s aftermath.
At one point the kids even spontaneously broke into whirling human tornados!
On their way out, party attendees were congratulated on surviving the party and given a Disaster Survival Kit to make sure they are prepared in case of future disasters.
The kits were packed with a compass, an energy bar, an organic lollipop (kid’s equivalent to a sugar pill!), a bar of Ivory soap (that doubled as a fun at-home science experiment to make pretend snow…instructions taped to the side), and the best party favors I’ve ever purchased…finger flashlights in four different colors! We have been playing with them every day since the party.
The party, full of recipes I had never tried before, dependent on kids eager to participate and parents willing to help, felt like it could be a disaster waiting to happen. Luckily for us all, the only disasters at this party were the pre-planned, natural variety. I never got to finish the giant volcano and tornado decorations I had planned or make lava rock candy, but there’s never the time or energy to complete every single idea and what we attempted worked out well. The kids all seemed to have fun, the volcanos all erupted to the sounds of gleeful shrieks, and the community room weathered the storm.
In the end, the only real trouble we had at all was a loud, disruptive party crasher…
Thank you to everyone who helped make this party a total BLAST, especially Ben who, again and again, puts up with my crazy birthday party plans and Mike who took almost all of these fantastic photos which I never would have been able to take while managing the chaos.