While the kids were visiting their grandparents last week someone bought them a Smithsonian-branded DIY baking soda volcano at a garage sale and almost as soon as I arrived home from San Diego they were like “MOM! We missed you! Did you bring us anything? SO ANYWAY WHEN ARE WE GOING TO BUILD THIS VOLCANO?”

The box art made it look like this thing was going to be epic—giant sploogey eruptions of reddish lava drooling over its sides, etc. Possibly even an actual dinosaur included, once you assembled what was sure to be its MINDBLOWING contents.

Riley was so excited when I opened the box he was practically hovering in midair, and the very first thing we had to do . . . was thread a shitload of string through about fifty jillion tiny-ass fucking holes in a cardboard circle.

Screen shot 2011-08-09 at 7.25.02 AM

I mean seriously. SERIOUSLY. What kid has the patience to do this? I’m 37 and I barely had the hand-eye coordination to carry out this brain-numbing task, which took, I’m not even kidding, like FORTY-FIVE MINUTES. Why were the holes so small? Out of all the potential options for including a frame for the volcano—collapsible plastic, cardboard pieces, some goddamned sticks—who sat at the Idea Table and thought STRING! YES! CHILDREN LOVE STRING, JUST LIKE KITTENS!

I will tell you who. The same motherfucker who came up with this actual I-am-not-making-this-up Smithsonian Institute “Department of Innovation” logo, that’s who:

Department-of-Innovation-logo-e1312803483669

(Please note that those gears are not actually capable of turning.)

The current status of the Thrilling Erupting Volcano is that it’s been layered with gooey child-sliming plaster and now sits, a sodden and most decidedly NON-epic lump, on the living room table where it needs to dry for at least 2 days. OH BOY MY KIDS ARE SO STOKED THANKS SMITHSONIAN!

volcano
Bah.

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Lawyerish
10 years ago

From the first picture, I thought it was like a foot high, at least, but it doesn’t even have size going for it! It’s TINY and pitiful looking! WTF, Smithsonian?

Mim
Mim
10 years ago

We got a plastic old-school volcano for the kids last year and it was, uh, not so thrilling. Baking soda and soap and food coloring just don’t make very satisfying lava. OK, this is dating me, i am sure, but wasn’t there an episode of The Brady Bunch where one of the kids made a volcano model and it exploded spectacularly? That is the dream, and let me just say, it was not our reality at all. Still, good for the boys to learn early that life is full of disappointed expectations.

Penne
Penne
10 years ago

While you’re waiting, just get a roll of Mentos and a 2-Liter bottle of Diet Coke. Instant gratification AND sticky! Yay!

Nik-Nak
10 years ago

Yeah, that’s pretty tiny. Better be worth it, huh?

ssm
ssm
10 years ago

Oh MAN. This smacks of Lego-ism. It’s like every single “ages 8-14” Lego set my six-year-old wants me to put together, sorting out 1,200 teeny tiny pieces into 34 different piles and going through 67 steps while my near-sightedness dims and the scream inside me grows. So, yeah, I understand.

crisi-tunity
10 years ago

Wow, not at all the quality I’m accustomed to from Smithsonian-branded products. (I have a moon lamp from them that’s terrific.) I think you could make a 100% homemade volcano more easily than this.

Also, take Penne’s advice!

Heidi
Heidi
10 years ago

A few years back, I bought The Ultimate Book of Kid Concoctions. In it, was recipe for a volcano using 2 small paper cups, baking soda, & vinegar. (And a plate to set it all on). Kids got a kick out of it and it only took minutes to set up.

Sharon
Sharon
10 years ago

I was going to say you could probably just download instructions to build an easier volcano, but yeah. Mentos and Diet Coke works, too.

HollyLynne
10 years ago

“NON-epic lump”. I’m dying over here.

Jen W.
Jen W.
10 years ago

OMG hahaha it’s about 10 times smaller than I expected! It’s a wee volcano!

Jess
10 years ago

perhaps that is why someone sold it at the garage sale in the first place.

Nolita
10 years ago

I agree with Jess on why this may have been in the sale. Maybe go with Heidi’s idea but just have the boys look into the sink as you pour the vinegar into the baking soda? No muss, no fuss and clean drains. Maybe then you can have them do this to the other sinks in the house? #earningtheirkeep

Faith
Faith
10 years ago

Ahh, so many memories of failed science experiments as a kid. I think I’m finally starting to understand the look on my mom’s face anytime I asked her if I could try a new one.

Rachael
10 years ago

I love it when people buy my kids FUN! activity kits! that end up requiring more parental participation than child participation. I’m talking about you, Perfume Factory and also you, Bead Loom.

Fiona
Fiona
10 years ago

Hahaaa, I’m a high school teacher and I’ve never managed to fashion an exciting indoor volcano. The best one my students ever made was a massive volcano CAKE with seeping jelly…yum! If I wasn’t so far away I could do exploding methane bubbles – definitely a Chemistry lesson for them to look forward to.

Amy
Amy
10 years ago

Hmmm….size does matter! We did a Messy Scientist class at a local art studio (for kids called Art Beast!!) Much better volcano and other exploding things. You’re so creative I’m sure you’ll come up with better things!

Laura
Laura
10 years ago

We have that exact same volcano but haven’t opened it yet so thanks for the heads up. Today we are going to do the Smithsonian Pre-historic Sea Monsters kit, a kit that requires distilled water and if you have it, an incandescent light. This kit has disappointment written all over it. My brother’s girlfriend is a scientist and gave these kits to my boys at Christmas in an effort to get them excited about science. If the kits don’t work I am sending the boys to her lab at the CDC so they can see a real scientist at work and so I won’t have to deal with their disappointment.

barb.
barb.
10 years ago

This reminds me of the “easy-to-assemble!” pirate ship I got for the kids. It… yeah. Frustrating, irritating, and nearly impossible is more like it, and I am well beyond the 6+ rating on the package.

H
H
10 years ago

I’m with Lawyerish, I thought it was much bigger than it really is. It must have been torture to thread it!

Sunshyn
Sunshyn
10 years ago

If you do Mentos and soda, you have to make some sort of device so they all fall into the soda bottle at once. Also, use DIET soda to avoid stickiness. Fun to get three 2-liter bottles of diet soda and food coloring, dye one red, one blue, and have red, white, and blue going all at once! I’m sure there are tutorials online to do this… Will Smith did it with his kids, I remember… VolcaNOs suck.

Donna
Donna
10 years ago

Yeah, I couldn’t figure out why it was so hard for you to thread the thing until the final picture with your hand for comparison. LOL, that’s just dumb. I’m all for the mentos idea tho too.
And then I saw a thing about dry ice in a plastic liter bottle blowing up, but the boys don’t like the loud still do they? I tend to do scary not for kid experiments.
Oh! Do an ant farm, or bee hives! That would be cool!

MRW
MRW
10 years ago

Oh Rachael I’m so with you. My son has received a candy making kit and some kind of pyramid making thing that I just can’t bring myself to tackle based on the experiences we’ve had with other such kits given to us by the same relatives. 2,357 hours of my time later the thing is ALWAYS a disappointment. I’d like to tell the relatives who give us this crap to keep it at their house and do them with my son if they love that shit so much. Feh.

Melissa
Melissa
10 years ago

I thought it was bigger too! Thanks forthe heads up.

Also? That logo made me laugh out loud before I ever read your description! My husband’s company’s marketing department was coming up with a new logo. It was similar to this one. At the presentation of it, my husband (the lOne engineer) pointed out that it would never turn. They were crushed. And one person refused to believe him. There is no arguing with someone like that!

Jill
Jill
10 years ago

I’m going to be another to say Mentos and diet soda. If you have a Hobby Lobby out by you – they sell a contraption (it’s usually on the wall of stuff by the registers) that helps you drop the candy into the soda – it even comes with the Mentos! Explosion satisfaction :)

Katie
Katie
10 years ago

Oh my GOD this is funny. Those gears are an exercise in futility if I ever saw one. And I’ve seen plenty.

Cheryl M.
10 years ago

I can’t believe that’s the best they could come up with! You’d have been better off using chicken wire and paper mache!

Cheryl M.
10 years ago

Oh! Forgot to mention…go to YouTube and look up post-it waterfalls! They’re really cool, and you can get some awesome effects that the kids will love! (No, it does NOT involve covering everything in your house with post-its, lol!)

Jessica
10 years ago

I’m thinking the Smithsonian science kits are marketed to non-parents who don’t have a clue what to buy…

Aunt Linda
Aunt Linda
10 years ago

Um, honey? It would be okay with me if you NEVER review any of my books. Okay?

Katrina
10 years ago

Um. Needle?

Sorry. That wasn’t helpful at all! I really hope that the actual reaction won’t be lame – especially after all that work! You would have thought they could just design a cardboard cone you could mold around the central bit that would do the same job in about 30 seconds.

RockyCat
10 years ago

After seeing that last picture, all I can think of is the Stonehenge set from This is Spinal Tap …

Deanna
10 years ago

My version: I dribble food coloring into the garbage disposal. Call the kids and let them dump baking soda and then vinegar into it. Repeat till my disposal is clean. ooooh – ahhhh – they *love* it! ha!
You might be up for sainthood for making that volcano kit. And try my way – very cheap and the clean up is a breeze!

Andrea
Andrea
10 years ago

It’s not a volcano, but it is kind of cool because you do get a reaction.
Do this outside.

You’ll need:
empty plastic water bottle (20 oz is fine)
vinegar
baking soda
balloon (uninflated)

Do this:
Pour some vinegar in the bottle (I never measure the stuff so…1/4 cup?)
spoon some baking soda into the uninflated balloon (see note on measuring)

put end of balloon over water bottle opening.
dump the contents of the balloon into the vinegar.

The resulting C02 will make the balloon inflate. If you’re really really lucky, the balloon will go flying off.

I’m with the others about the mentos and diet coke (not sticky) and the epic Brady Bunch volcano stands out in my mind.

mosted
mosted
10 years ago

As for the diet soda and mentos….been there…have teenagers…do it OUTSIDE!!! FAR away from your house…pretty intense!

Leslie
10 years ago

Wow – it looks like it’s about 5 inches high. Tops. What a let down!

Rachel
Rachel
10 years ago

That is super lame. Everyone’s suggestions of Mentos and Diet Coke is spot on. I work the Maker Faire in California and the kids always go to the soda fountain demonstrations dragging their feet and then lose their tiny minds when they see it work. A little chicken wire, papier mache and arcylic paint and the kids can make a volcano cone to go over a 2 liter soda bottle so you can have a soda volcano – way closer to the Brady Bunch volcano than vinegar and baking soda will get you.

MaryPoppinSertraline
10 years ago

I was going to comment, but am now too traumatized by Fiona’s mention of “exploding methane bubbles”. (!!!)

Anyway- what Lawyerish, Mim, and RockyCat said!

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