Parts of a Bridge: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Rebecca Gillaspy

Dr. Gillaspy has taught health science at University of Phoenix and Ashford University and has a degree from Palmer College of Chiropractic.

Bridges need to be strong so they can carry people and vehicles over water or other obstacles. Learn how piles, piers, beams, and abutments make a bridge strong, so the deck or surface of the bridge is safe to cross.

Strong Bridges

Did you know that a bridge has arms and legs just like you? Of course, unlike your arms and legs, the limbs of a bridge don't move. Their job is to form a solid foundation so people, cars, and trains can cross over the bridge without it collapsing.

Piles and Piers

To learn about the parts of a bridge, let's start at the bottom with the piles and piers.

Piles and piers are vertical structures that support the weight of the bridge. Vertical means that they run in the up and down direction. You can think of them as the legs of the bridge because they look just like your legs when you're standing.

Piles are slender vertical supports that are driven into the ground below a bridge, even if that ground is below water. If your legs were piles, it would be like having your feet stuck in the mud.

Piers are thick, strong structures that support the bridge at the ends of a span. Span is a word that describes the distance between two bridge supports. If your legs were piers, the span would be the width of your hips.

Together, piles and piers support the weight of the bridge beams - let's learn about those next.


The rusty beams of this bridge are supported by large concrete piers.

Do a quick experiment with your friend. Stand face-to-face with your arms stretched out toward each other. Now lock your arms together. Your arms represent the beams of a bridge.

Beams are long, horizontal structures that stretch the length of a bridge. You can think of something that's horizontal as something that lies flat. To remember that beams of a bridge lie horizontal, think of walking on a balance beam.

Beams need to be strong to support heavy things like trucks and trains, so they are often made out of strong materials, like steel.


For the bridge to stay in line with the road, the beams need to be anchored firmly into the ground, so bridges have abutments. An abutment is a sturdy structure that connects the beams of the bridge to the land.

This abutment looks like a wall under the bridge.

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