Volcanic eruptions are a rare natural phenomenon that fascinates online school, homeschool, and distance learning students alike. The explosive eruptions and oozing lava make it easy to understand why! Many kids know about volcanoes in general, but how they work is often an intriguing mystery. What happens inside the earth when a volcano erupts?
For a great summer learning activity, use a watermelon to model what occurs inside the earth’s layers and spark a sense of wonder in your child. Embracing activities that encourage your child to learn even when they’re not in school can help prevent summer learning loss and ensure they’re ready to hit the ground running when school starts back up in the fall.
To create your own volcano at home, explore the instructographic below and follow the volcano steps in order for a safe, fun (and slightly messy) learning activity.
Background Information on Volcanoes
While making your volcano, you can talk to your child about what real volcanoes are like. Discussing the basics of geology and the stages of a volcano can help your child expand their knowledge, learn new vocabulary and keep up their learning skills over summer break. To help you out, the following information is adapted from the expert-designed curriculum used by Connections Academy, a K12 online school where students can develop a lifelong passion for learning.
Inside the Earth’s Crust
Understanding volcanoes starts with understanding the structure of the earth. The outer part of the earth that we see, called the crust, is the top of many layers. Underneath the crust are bigger and hotter layers that lead to the center of the earth, the core. Within these layers are huge sections called tectonic plates. At the bottom of the crust, before we get to the deeper layers, is where we find hot liquid rock called magma, which might be beneath massive amounts of pressure.
Tectonic Plates, Magma, Friction, and Pressure
Tectonic plates are parts of the crust that act like giant puzzle pieces. The plates have the ability to move, and when they do, they create problems—like earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanoes. These natural disasters happen because the movement of the plates causes friction. That friction can create pressure on the magma, and the magma can no longer stay in one place. The magma starts moving. Volcanoes occur when the pressure causes the magma to move toward the surface to flow out or erupt.
Magma or Lava?
While molten rock remains inside the volcano, and inside the earth’s crust, it is called magma. When the magma comes to the surface and erupts or flows out of the volcano, the term for it is lava. To keep the STEM summer learning engaging, you may want to show your kids some exciting footage of volcanic eruptions that shows how powerful and destructive nature can be.
The Idea of Plate Tectonics
Tectonic plates have been linked to the continents’ movements. When the plates move apart or hit one another, earthquakes are created, and they cause the land to break, collide, and move. Plate tectonics is the reason for the formation of continents we know today. When the plates move apart, volcanoes can form and erupt, and when plates move or collide, earthquakes can occur. Plates coming together can also form mountains over time.
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Three Stages of Volcanoes Life Cycle
The three different stages of volcanoes are active, dormant, and extinct.
- Active—A volcano is active if it is erupting, or may erupt soon. There are, on average, 35 volcanic eruptions every year.
- Dormant—A dormant volcano is one that may have erupted before, but it is no longer erupting. However, it has the ability to erupt again.
- Extinct—An extinct volcano is not erupting and will never erupt again.
Volcanoes Around the World
There isn’t an exact number of volcanoes recorded because they’re difficult to count. They can be found in the ocean and on land, and the same source of magma can erupt in multiple spots on the earth’s surface.
A majority of volcanoes are located on the sides of the continents that border the Pacific Ocean. The continents form a U shape, which is known as the Ring of Fire. Around the ring, eruptions and earthquakes are common.
To extend learning, challenge your online school, homeschool, or traditional school student to discover if there are any volcanoes in your state. Where is the closest volcano to your home? Which of the three stages of a volcano is it in? Encouraging your child’s curiosity can make summer learning even more fun!
Volcanoes in the ocean work the same way land volcanoes do. Eighty percent of Earth’s volcanic eruptions happen under the water’s surface. Searching for volcanoes in the ocean can be difficult because they may be in deep waters where they’re not easily seen. Dormant and extinct volcanoes would also be challenging to identify because the magma isn’t being pushed up and out of the water.
Earth’s Biggest Volcano
The biggest volcano known is Mauna Loa, which is one of five volcanoes located on Hawaii’s islands. It is measured at 13,678 feet tall. Some scientists believe Mauna Loa will erupt again, because there is past evidence that the volcano erupted every six years. However, the volcano hasn’t erupted since 1984, and there is no definitive way of knowing when it will erupt again.
Through the curriculum at Connections Academy, students engage with knowledge in a way that inspires their curiosity and helps them grow. From science to math to language arts, students explore their world every day—and can keep doing so throughout the summer with projects like a fruit volcano.
As a parent, helping your child learn can be incredibly rewarding. In fact, being involved in their children’s education is one of the top reasons parents choose online school. See some of the other top motivations for switching in our article “10 Reasons Parents Switched to Virtual School.”