Sinkholes 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.

Sinkholes are holes that suddenly appear when there is nothing underneath the ground to support it. Find out what causes sinkholes and where in the United States they are most common.

What is a Sinkhole?

Imagine looking out your window, watching cars drive by, when suddenly a hole starts to open up in the middle of the street. The black asphalt starts collapsing into the hole and it slowly gets bigger and bigger, until it's a big pit in the middle of the road. You are watching a sinkhole!

A large sinkhole can swallow up a road.
Large Sinkhole that Swallowed Part of a Road

A sinkhole is a hole that forms in the ground when the dirt and rocks wash away and there is nothing underneath the ground anymore to support it. They can happen anywhere, but are more common in the states of Florida, Texas, Alabama, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Missouri.

You might think sinkholes look like mysterious, giant monster mouths that open up and swallow everything above them, including houses and cars. But sinkholes aren't monsters; in fact, there are a few simpler, more interesting reasons why sinkholes form.

How do Sinkholes Form?

Many times, the ground above a sinkhole is sitting on a kind of rock called limestone. This kind of rock isn't very strong and is holey, kind of like Swiss cheese. Other times it sits on rock salt. When water that flows underground moves through it, these kinds of rock begin to erode, or break down and dissolve. Imagine what would happen if your poured water over a block of salt - it would dissolve.

Eventually, there isn't enough rock to support the ground above it, and it collapses into a sinkhole that fills with water because it has no way to drain.

Sometimes this happens naturally, and sometimes it happens when new buildings and roads are built. As people pump water out of the ground or change the way it naturally drains into the earth, it can weaken the rock that supports the ground under our feet. Then it's like everything above ground is built on a tower of dominoes that eventually falls in on itself.

Another kind of sinkhole happens when the top of an underground cave filled with water collapses, like the roof of a house falling in. This is common in areas of Mexico. Some of these sinkholes, called cenotes, are very old. People like to swim and get fresh water from these sinkholes.

Sinkholes can also form when underground caves collapse. In Mexico these are called cenotes.
Cave Sinkhole

Sinkholes Big and Small

Sinkholes can form slowly, at a snail's pace, or collapse suddenly like a bolt of lightning.

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