Stalactites & Stalagmites 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.

Some caves have cool-looking formations called stalactites and stalagmites. Although they grow in different directions and may be different sizes and shapes, they are all formed by the same basic process. In this lesson, you will learn about these formations.

What are Stalactites and Stalagmites?

Imagine climbing deep into a dark, wet cave. When the click of your flashlight switch echoes against the cave walls and there is finally some light, you see strange formations growing from the ceiling and the ground. Have you teleported to some alien planet? No! What you see are stalactites, stalagmites and columns! Let's take a look at them now.

Stalactites

Stalactites are formations that look like icicles and grow down from the ceiling of a cave. They form over time when water slowly drips from cracks in the ceiling, like a leaky faucet. There are minerals dissolved in the water that build up over time as the water drips, eventually forming stalactites.

Some stalactites grow faster than others, but none of them grow very fast. The slowest-growing stalactites have been measured to grow less than an inch every hundred years. In comparison, a baby grows about ten inches from the time it is born until it turns one!

Stalactites Growing from a Cave Ceiling
Stalactites Growing from a Cave Ceiling

The most common type of stalactite is hollow, like a drinking straw. These are called soda straw stalactites. When many stalactites grow close together, they look like the curtains you see on windows.

Not only are most stalactites old, they are easy to break, which is why people aren't allowed to touch them when they go on cave tours.

Stalagmites

Stalagmites form and grow up from the cave floor when water drips down from the stalactites on the cave ceiling, which is why they are usually found right underneath them. The minerals in the water build up, just as they do on the stalactites, but this time, they land on the ground and grow upward. The water evaporates, leaving the minerals behind. It takes about the same amount of time for a stalagmite to grow as a stalactite.

Stalagmites Growing Up from the Ground of a Cave
Stalagmites Growing Up from the Ground of a Cave

Stalagmites form various shapes when they grow and have different names. For example, small, rounded stalagmites are called button stalagmites, and stalagmites that look like broken plates that have piled up in a sink are called pile-of-plates stalagmites.

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