Geography of North America: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught middle and high school history, and has a master's degree in Islamic law.

While North America may not be the biggest or the most populated of the seven continents, that doesn't mean that there's not anything interesting going on with its geography.

A Diverse Continent

North America is the third largest continent in the world, after only Africa and Asia. However, it has plenty of diversity in geography. From high mountains to long rivers, Great Plains and even rainforests, North America has it all. In this lesson, we're going to look at the geography of North America, seeing just how much geography that one continent can fit!

Major Bodies of Water

First, let's start by looking at the bodies of water that border North America. Far to the north of the continent is the Arctic Ocean. It is mostly frozen for much of the year, but there is still plenty of water for seals and polar bears! Further south and to the east of North America is the Atlantic Ocean, while on the western side of the continent is the Pacific Ocean. At the southeastern tip are the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico.

However, those are only the saltwater bodies. North America also has plenty of freshwater too. The biggest river system in North America is the Missouri-Mississippi River system, which is more than 3,700 miles long. Other important rivers in North America include the St. Lawrence River and the Rio Grande. North America also has a number of impressive lakes, such as the Great Lakes that stretch westward from the St. Lawrence River.

The Mississippi-Missouri river system
Mississippi River

Hot and Cold

Many of those bodies of water change temperatures throughout their courses. For example, the Mississippi River starts from snow and ice melting in the Midwest and ends up in hot and humid Louisiana. As a general rule, the further north you go in North America, the colder it gets, while the further south you are, the hotter it gets. However, there are exceptions, as some parts of the Southwest have snow throughout the year.

Mountains and Plains

In the east, the Appalachian Mountains stretch from Canada to Alabama, while in the west the Rocky Mountains stretch from Canada to New Mexico. To the south, the Peninsular Ranges cover much of north and western Mexico. That said, the tallest mountain in North America, Denali, is part of the Alaska Range.

The Rocky Mountains
Mountain

At the other end of the spectrum, North America has one of the largest plains, The Great Plains, in the world. Stretching from Central Canada to Northern Mexico, it provides millions of tons of food for people of the continent and beyond.

Deserts and Rainforests

Finally, North America also has deserts and rainforests. Deserts cover much of the western central parts of the continent, especially the American southwest and the northern part of Mexico. After all, this is where cacti grow.

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