How to make a paper mache volcano for kids

We show you how to easily make a papier-mâché volcano with the kids that’s just perfect for geography homework, or a ‘Hawaiian Day’ at school.

A project like this needs to do a couple of things – entertain your child AND hopefully aid them in retaining some of the amazing things they’ve learned about volcanic eruptions and magma flows.

Our model of Mauna Loa in Hawaii brings all this together, with popcorn lava bombs and diorama style notes that help your child retain those explosive volcanic facts.

What you will need

  • A small cardboard box – Any will do, but we used one that had a hinged lid
  • Flat polystyrene – For the base and to help build up the edges of the volcano
  • Newspaper – For the papier-mâché
  • Sellotape – To help stick the paper volcano base together
  • Bubblewrap – To make the sea
  • Water based paint – As many colours as you can lay your hands on
  • Paint brushes – Several different sizes - both detail and large area coverage
  • PVA Glue
  • Cotton wool – For the lava flow
  • Popcorn – For the lava bombs
  • Pipe cleaners – For the explosion
  • Tissue paper – Red and orange for the lava
  • A mixing bowl – Medium size
  • FlourSalt – To make the papier-mache paste
  • WaterSalt – To make the papier-mache paste
  • Salt – To make the papier-mache paste
  • Cocktail sticks – To make the fact flags
  • Sheet of paper or card – To make the fact flags
  • Scissors

Ready? Let’s get making…

STEP 1

First stick a flat-ish square of polystyrene into the base of your box – and paint the top of it blue. Once dry use PVA glue to stick some bubble wrap on top of the newly painted polystyrene – this will make the sea look wavey.

STEP 2

Scrunch up a big ball of paper into a donut shape (this will form the base of your volcano). Then stick this to the polystyrene base. If you’d like some surrounding hills (gentler slopes) then add some smaller balls next to the larger one. Two or three will do.

A closeup of the base of a DIY model volcano

STEP 3

To make the lip of the volcano – around the edge of the big ball of paper break up some of the flat polystyrene and glue it around the edge.

Use plenty of glue! Drizzling it over the top won’t hurt…

It doesn’t matter if it’s messy – rocks aren’t tidy! Now you have the basic shape of your volcano. Yes, it looks strange… but don’t worry… we will add shape later.

TIP: While the glue is drying on the base of your volcano (this will take a good few hours) you can get on with making some of the decorations – or researching your volcano facts!

STEP 4

Now for the lava bombs. Grab some popcorn (if you haven’t already eaten it) and paint it red and yellow. You can be super messy here – using a brush or dipping them in paint. Use lots of different sizes. Leave them to dry.

STEP 5

Paint the background of your box. Seeing as it it’s behind the volcano a base coat of blue will do. Mix up some blue and white to get a sky colour. And paint away.

When this has dried you can add the smoke in the sky. A tiny bit of black mixed in with the blue will give you a moody colour. Paint in a grey sky near the top of the box… using a big broad brush and sideways brush strokes.

Then add some darker blue and grey where the smoke is coming out of the volcano.

First paint being applied to a diorama of a Hawaiian volcano

STEP 6

Glue some of your newly made lava bombs onto the background of your box, above the volcano, as if they’re shooting out the top.

STEP 7

Once the PVA glue on the volcano has set… it’s papier-mâché time!!

Tear strips of newspaper into varied widths and lengths.

To make the paste for the papier-mâché, add half a mug of flour and half a mug of water to the mixing bowl. Shake in a tablespoon of salt. And then mix it all up so it’s a consistent gloopy thickness. If you need more paste, repeat this process.

Dip the newspaper into the mix, and use your fingers to wipe off the excess… you don’t want it too soggy.

Now lay the newspaper over the volcano sub-structure… making sure the papier-mâché overlaps each time. You can squidge things around to accentuate shapes or ridges as you go. And don’t be worried, there’s no right or wrong way of doing this

You will need 2 or 3 layers until it is fully covered… including the land areas that fall into the sea.

Leave to dry overnight.

A closeup of a child making a papier mache model volcano

STEP 8

Paint the volcano – get as detailed as you want – adding highlights and shadows as you see fit. It helps to refer to a picture from a book or the internet.

Now get three cotton wool balls and rub them in red and yellow paint. Squidge them up and while wet, glue them on the top of the volcano (the crater).

While these are drying you can paint the lava flows from the top of the volcano and down the sides to the village or sea.

Now leave to dry.

Child paining a model paper mache volcano

TIP: Add little buildings around the land at the foot of the volcano by cutting up small squares of polystyrene, painting them grey and gluing them on the base.

Village details being added to a paper mache volcano

STEP 9

Making the exploding lava involves some orange or red pipe cleaners and some orange and red tissue paper.

Take three pipe cleaners and twist them together to make a 3D flame shape. Ensuring that there’s a straight part at the bottom to stick into the top of the volcano’s crater.

Now glue squares of orange and yellow tissue paper to the pipe cleaners. The scrunchier the better 😁

Now using a skewer (or similar sharp, thin item), pierce a hole in the top of the crater through the cotton wool and push the sticking out end into it so the lava explosion points up into the sky.

Lava explosion being added to a paper mache volcano

STEP 10

Finish your decoration by sticking any remaining lava bombs around the surrounding hillsides, volcano and villages.

Lava bombs being added to paper mache volcano

STEP 11

The final step is to make your ‘fact flags’. You can do this in two ways:

  • Write your facts neatly on a sheet of paper and then cut them out in a square, cloud, or speech bubble (whatever shape you want).
  • Or, cut the shapes out first and then write the facts on them.

The former is better if you don’t really know how long each sentence is going to be, whilst the latter is good for helping to control your child’s handwriting.

Fact flags being added to a home made model volcano

Glue each flag to a cocktail stick, allow to dry and then push into the relevant place on the finished diorama. And that’s it, you’re done! 😊🌋

A finished home made paper mache volcano