Looking for an easy way to teach continental drift and hands-on plate tectonics? You will love this simple and tasty earth science demonstration using cake!
Plate Tectonics Theory
The idea that continents and other land masses moved based on plate-like arrangements below the earth’s crust was first proposed by Alfred Wegener in 1915.
Basically, the theory of plate tectonics says that the earth’s lithosphere is broken into 15 large plates, with 8 plates bigger than the rest. These plates include:
- North America
- South America
Plate tectonic theory states that as hot magma rises and colder magma falls, it creates a sort of “boiling” effect, that causes continents to drift. There are four ways that land masses move over time.
Hands-On Plate Tectonics Activity
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For this activity, we made chocolate cake covered in green icing (because grass) and illustrated how the continents have drifted apart over the lifespan of the world and how that has led to the current shape of our continents.
- Chocolate sheet cake (we used this recipe and make it in a cookie sheet)
- Frosting (we used this recipe and colored ours green)
- Tectonic plate diagram
When we made our cake recipe, I spread it onto a cookie sheet so it would be thin enough to cut easily. We used homemade cake and frosting because 1, I love cooking, and 2, we didn’t have any box cake and frosting. The activity would be a lot shorter with a box mix or a sheet cake purchased from your local grocery store.
After the cake was completed and frosted, we eyeballed the plate shapes and cut them out with a knife. If you wanted to be more accurate, you could try printing your plate diagram and placing it over your cake before cutting.
After cutting apart the cake, I had Monkey move the pieces apart slowly until they roughly represented their current place on the globe (as much as we could in 2D). We talked about how land masses can move and the construction of continents and the earth itself.
Think About It
After finishing our hands-on plate tectonics demonstration and discussing how land masses move over time, I had Monkey speculate about what will happen to the earth’s shape in the future. We answered the following questions together:
- What will happen to continents in a few thousand years? A few million?
- Will continents always keep their current shape?
- How long would it take before you could noticeably see a difference in continental drift from space?
- How long would it take to notice a difference from earth?
- What would happen if continents collide?
More Continent Activities for Early Elementary
Toss the Globe Geography Game from Still Playing School
Continent Boxes from Parenting Chaos
Story of Olympic Rings with Free Printable from Planet Smarty Pants
Assigning Global Landforms to Continents from Line Upon Line Learning
Continents Books for Kids from 123 Homeschool 4 Me