Lightning Facts: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Diane Sieverson

Diane has taught all subjects at the elementary level, was the principal of a K-8 private school and has a master's degree in Measurement and Evaluation.

Lightning is a common sight with strong thunderstorms. This lesson will teach you about lightning, how it forms, why it's dangerous, some common kinds of lightning, and some other cool facts about it.

What is Lightning?

You see the dark clouds rolling in and know a storm is coming. Suddenly, a flash of light streaks across the sky and all the lights in your house go out, leaving you in the dark. You lost power thanks to a bolt of lightning!

Lightning is a flash of light produced by electricity that passes from a cloud to the ground or between the clouds and air.

Lightning strike
Lightning strike

Although a lightning flash is only about an inch wide, it can be as hot as 60,000 degrees Fahrenheit, which is about 51,000 degrees hotter than the Sun! And don't even think of trying to outrun lightning because it travels around 62,000 miles every second.

As powerful as it is, lightning actually has a lot in common with the static electricity shock you get when you drag your feet across the carpet and then touch a metal cabinet handle.

How Lightning Forms

Everything, including you and the clouds, carry tiny, electrically-charged particles called protons and electrons. These little particles can't be seen with the naked eye. Protons have a positive charge and electrons have a negative charge.

Ordinarily, you don't notice them because you don't feel them and they are stable. But you can gain more negatively-charged electrons, like by dragging your feet on the carpet. Then, when you touch the positively-charged cabinet handle, you get a nasty zap when the protons and electrons meet!

Clouds are made of little icy bits that crash into each other like bumper cars, building up negative charges the way you did with your feet. The protons stay at the top of the cloud and the electrons drop to the bottom. When there are a lot of negative electrons hanging out at the bottom of the cloud, they are attracted to positive protons on the ground.

Cloud-to-ground lightning
Cloud to ground lightning

The electrons travel down to the ground where protons have clumped together. The protons fly up to the electrons and, when they collide, you see that powerful bolt of lightning! But there are other types of lightning that don't hit the ground.

Common Types of Lightning

There are many different kinds of lightning. Some of the most common types are:

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