Explosions Eruptions Combustion -10yr- Bag Bombs
Holly in Albany, CA, USA
My son is an energetic kid who enjoys physics and engineering, particularly when it involves speed and/or fire. So when asked to choose the theme for his tenth birthday party, he wanted explosions! I agreed, but of course paid a lot of attention to keeping everything kid-safe, and hopefully educational too. I planned most of the activities using books and websites that describe kids' science experiments, especially the book Boom Splat Kablooey which we gave the birthday boy as a gift, and SteveSpanglerScience.com, concentrating on explosions and other dramatic reactions instead of non-exploding standards like making slime. Narrowing the theme that way was a challenge but it worked really well; the party was very exciting!
INVITATION: Using neon-green Astrobright cardstock (letter size folded in half) and neon-orange Astrobright printer paper, we created an invitation that appeared to explode! On the front of the green card was printed Explosions! Eruptions! Combustion! It'll be a BLOWOUT good time! Join us as we pull out ALL the stops in a bang-up celebration of C-'s 10th birthday" and below that was a simple black line drawing (clip art) of a person holding his fingers in his ears and ducking away from smoke and lines representing an explosion. The words were in a crazy font and had an orange "glow" effect around the letters.
On the inside of the card the details of date address etc. and "Dress for a mess lab coats and eye protection will be provided" were printed in the corners (as if flying out of the middle) and in the center the orange paper was cut and folded into a pop-up so that as the card was opened it unfolded into a starburst. (This is a little hard to explain without pictures but I'll try. You cut the paper into a circle with a diameter that will fit in your card then cut one slit from the outside of the circle in to the center. Then fan-fold from one cut edge to the other with each fold line being a ray of the circle. Slice off the outer curve of the folded-up paper at an angle so that it's a starburst shape when unfolded. Unfold partway so that the cut edges are spread on a horizontal line forming a half circle with the folds tending to pop up. Glue down the two outermost sections centering the paper on the vertical fold of the card. It takes two of these shapes one oriented up and the other down to form a full circle starburst in each card.) We mailed the invitations in neon-color envelopes with return address labels that said [our last name] [our town] Labs (like Lawrence Berkeley Labs and Lawrence Livermore Labs near where we live) with a little lightning bolt graphic.
DECORATIONS: I used Google Images to find photos and drawings of various kinds of explosions volcanic eruptions dynamite mad scientists and so on plus standard warning signs for Hazardous Materials Combustible High Voltage and the like and printed them on regular printer paper. My kids enjoyed putting these warning signs on doors and cabinets around the house and the pictures went on the walls of the main rooms. We used black and lime green party table covers and had some foil-star "explosions" (dollar store balloon weights) decorating the mantel and cake table. I'd also picked up some green glowsticks at the dollar store and my son decided to use them to spell out his name taping them down against some black construction paper; he put that on the mantel. Some black and lime green streamers and "danglers" with colorful stars on a black background finished off the decorating.
ACTIVITIES: As the guests arrived we distributed safety goggles and disposable lab coats (from an online industrial supply these are only a couple dollars each and even though I bought adult medium size coats because the small was out of stock they were fine for tweens with the sleeves rolled up or cut shorter) and invited them to write their names on and decorate their lab coats (with permanent markers - my daughter drew flames shooting out of her pocket) and to turn an empty film canister into a rocket using construction paper. We had the canisters (fortunately I found a photo developing place that still had a bin of these and they let me dig through it for free) paper scissors tape and markers set out on the dining room table and just let them mess around with it - thankfully fourth graders don't need a lot of instruction or precut pieces! (For the rockets you need the Fuji style canisters where the lid fits inside the canister rather than outside. If you can't find a photo place that handles actual 35mm film any more you can buy them but they are kind of expensive.) We also put out a bunch of books related in some way to the explosions or science themes (Bang Splat Kablooey Irresponsible Science a graphic-novel biography of Marie Curie etc.) and many of the kids enjoyed browsing through them at various quieter points in the party.
Once everyone was there I announced the first explosion activity: bag bombs! I gave each child a piece of paper towel (cut to the right size beforehand) and dumped a measured spoonful of baking soda onto it and showed them how to fold it into a packet. Then gave them a zip-lock sandwich bag with a measured amount of vinegar and water in it - fortunately my mom was here to help me measure and pour - and showed them how to hold the soda packet in the corner of the bag so that it did not touch the liquid until they dropped it. They zipped the bags closed and took them outside before dropping the packet in and setting them down on the ground. The reaction of the soda and vinegar makes the bag fill with fizz and finally burst open with a loud bang! Simple but impressive.
Next up was the film canister rockets. We used water (fill the canister about one third) and Alka-Seltzer (half a tablet) instead of vinegar and soda for this; like the bags the canister fills with fizz and then the lid bursts off. If you put the canister lid-down on the ground the canister itself flies up into the air a good 10 or 20 feet. We had a lot of canisters on the roof! The kids loved doing this and came up with many different variations using a cardboard launcher (paper towel tube) taping construction paper 'fireworks' to the lid and so on. We kept going until we ran out of Alka-Seltzer rocket fuel.
Then (since we'd done explosions) it was time for an eruption. For this we did the "kid safe" household-materials version of "Elephant's Toothpaste" which you can find described on SteveSpanglerScience.com. Basically you use dish soap hydrogen peroxide and yeast to create copious amounts of soapy foam that erupts from a plastic bottle it keeps going for a long time! With about 20 kids I needed a lot of clean 16 ounce bottles and I found that the best way to get them was to buy a case of bottled water. My mom and I emptied a bunch of them beforehand (we used the water for the punch!) and peeled off the labels.
We pre-filled the bottles with the measured hydrogen peroxide but let the kids pass around the dish soap and food coloring and add their own. I also pre-measured the yeast and portioned it out into little paper candy/favor cups; each kid got one of those and a popsicle stick for stirring as an adult went around pouring hot water to dissolve the yeast. The advantage of the little paper cups was they didn't need a funnel in order to pour the yeast into the bottle; they could just pinch the side of the cup for a pouring spout. Also with this number it was easier and much cheaper to set everything up outdoors on a big piece of plastic have the kids sit around it and let the foam slosh onto the ground rather than give each of them a pan or tray to use. This meant a big mess of course but the kids thoroughly enjoyed it and it wasn't that hard to just gather up the plastic and quickly get rid of MOST of the foam along with the discarded cups sticks and bottles when they were done. Good thing they had the lab coats on!
After rinsing hands and shaking off lab coats we trooped back inside for a pinata bomb! In hindsight we should have done this a little differently but the idea was cool and it was a lot of fun even though it didn't work quite as planned. The pinata was a black balloon meant to look like a round black bomb and in order to break it the kids had to push a "detonator" handle which was actually a bicycle pump inside a cardboard box. My husband connected the balloon to the pump with extra tubing and the idea was to inflate the balloon until literally blowing up it burst! I think instead of an actual balloon we should have used a black trash bag maybe wrapped around some kind of frame because it was really hard to get candy into the balloon and then we couldn't inflate it enough to break.
Eventually we just dumped a big bowl of candy - Atomic Fireballs Red Hots Hot Tamales Lazer Straws Starbursts Pop Rocks Smarties (for smart kids!) and Mentos (a bit of foreshadowing there) - into the circle and let the kids collect it in their bright orange goody bags. While everyone was trading and enjoying their candy my son opened his gifts and my husband got set up outside for the next activity which of course had to involve combustion! We lucked into a free curbside microwave oven for this so I didn't even have to buy one at Goodwill.
We gathered the kids on the back deck and had a little safety talk one of the parents had a fire extinguisher ready just in case! And then we cooked a bunch of different things in a microwave set up a few feet away just to see what would happen. I gathered most of the things ahead of time and got some good ideas here and by checking out YouTube videos: marshmallow treats shaped like cute animals Ivory soap (really impressive) a CD a steel mesh potscrubber light bulb potato chip bag (I had the kids pass around the bag of chips 'hot' flavored ones - and eat them while they watched the other stuff and then we cooked the empty bag) and I asked the kids for their ideas. They decided on some candy and a whole raw egg.
The big finish was several ping pong balls which start slowly but then explode very dramatically into flame and vaporize! While the smoke cleared it was a good time to go back inside for cake - more on the cake below. And finally back to eruptions the biggest one of all. We handed out a 2 liter bottle of diet soda (cheap store brand worked fine) half a roll of Mentos and a "Geyser Tube" to each kid. The Geyser Tubes make the Mentos-and-soda geyser (you can find instructions and explanations in many places basically when you drop the Mentos in the soda shoots up out of the bottle very fast and very high) more impressive and they were the main party favor. We gathered in the back yard again and I showed the kids how to use the tubes; we loaded and launched them all together for a huge grand finalie to the party. Most of the parents had arrived for pick-up by this time so they got to watch it too and loved it!
COSTUMES: Everyone was in lab coats and goggles as mentioned above. My family all wore bright green black and orange clothes too coordinating with the party decorations.
SNACKS: I bought a ginormous jug of bright orange cheese puff balls at Target mostly because they seemed to fit the décor but these were a huge hit with the kids and the jug was nearly empty by the end of the party. We also had sliced cheese in starburst shapes (cut with a cookie cutter) and round crackers pretzels and chips. We made a green punch (lime Kool-Aid and ginger ale) and also had juice and the rest of the bottled water. The party was midafternoon so there was no need (and no time!) for a full meal.
CAKE: An explosion cake was not the easiest thing to figure out. I didn't want it to literally explode because then we wouldn't be able to eat it! We could have gone with a volcano cake but decided on a big three-tier cake that just LOOKED like fire was exploding out the top of it. The cake was frosted in bright orange and at the top the frosting appeared to be bursting open and peeling back (this is called the explosion or burst effect by cake decorators) and coming out of the middle there were red orange and yellow fondant and royal icing stars and starbursts "spraying" out on wires and flames made out of red and yellow melted hard candy. We added a lime green bottom border on each tier and a few "droplets" of red and yellow scattered around the sides. I am still learning how to do tiered cakes well (this was my first three-tier) and I was pleased with how it came out considering! We used "sparkler" candles in the top of the cake.
FAVORS: The guests all got to keep their lab coat and safety goggles and their Geyser Tube and any candy from the pinata that they hadn't already eaten! We also handed out party poppers (the kind that throw confetti when you yank the string) and glow sticks as everyone left. My son designed his own thank you notes and I was impressed with his ideas. He created a new drawing based on the guy on the invitation but instead of ducking an explosion the guy was cleaning up the aftermath pushing a broom along to sweep up bits of stuff. We scanned that and put it on the front of the same type of green cards with "Hope you had a BLAST!" above the picture. On the inside was another orange starburst except this one was large and flat just an oval cut out with zigzag scrapbooking scissors so that he could write the note on the orange paper. The microwave surprisingly still worked after the party and my son and a friend spent some time cooking more soap and stuff in it the next day (under close supervision of course). We haven't killed it yet!"