California Landforms Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Jennifer Farrell

Jen has taught Science in accredited schools in North & South America for thirteen years and has a degree in Sociology (Epidemiology & Aids Research).

Jump aboard, we are taking a road trip through California! In this lesson, we will investigate how erosion, volcanoes, and earthquakes have helped to form some of California's diverse landforms.

California Landforms

California is known around the world for its celebrities and their great movies. However, there are brighter stars on display in this lesson: California landforms. A landform is a physical feature found on the Earth's surface.

Over time, the geology of California has been changed by things like volcanoes, earthquakes, and erosion. Volcanoes and earthquakes are responsible for large movements deep within the Earth, resulting in mountains colliding, shifting, and sliding. And erosion is the slow wearing away of land caused by wind, ice, and water. All three of these natural events have resulted in new physical features on the surface of the land.

Mountains

Our adventure begins in California's massive mountain peaks looming high above the sea. The Coastal Mountains and the Sierra Nevadas make up the two major ranges, or lines of mountains. Mt. Whitney, the tallest mountain in the lower 48 states, stands just over 14,000 feet in the Sierra Nevadas.

The mountains come from eruptions from a chain of volcanoes, which are responsible for the formation of molten rock after lava cooled deep within the Earth. Erosion caused the volcanoes to wear away nearly twenty million years ago. Eventually, Earth's crust began to stretch and rise upwards. After this uplifting, the Earth cooled and glaciers formed in the mountains. California's 462 mile long Coastal Valley resides between the two mountain ranges, the result of earthquakes shifting the land and glaciers sliding.

Mt. Whitney is located in the Sierra Nevadas
Mt. Whitney

Water

Have you ever dreamt of swimming in the ocean and playing in the snow, all on the same day? Well, it is possible because two of California's most impressive landforms reside right next to each other.

The coastline of California is over 800 miles long. Just off the coast near Los Angeles are a small group of islands known as the Channel Islands. The history of the rocks making up these islands dates back nearly one hundred million years. Plates, formally known as plate tectonics, are enormous pieces of solid rock deep within the Earth. The movement of these plates is responsible for the formation of the Channel Islands. Scientist believe the islands are part of a mountain range that runs east to west.

Five islands make up the Channel Islands.
Channel Islands

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