Thermal Energy Lesson for Kids: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:03 What Is Thermal Energy?
  • 0:26 How Does Thermal Energy Work?
  • 0:56 How Does Thermal…
  • 2:29 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
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.

Thermal energy is energy in the form of heat. In this lesson, you'll learn what causes thermal energy and the three ways thermal energy is transferred between objects.

What Is Thermal Energy?

If you have a hot drink, how do you make it cold? Well, one way would be to add ice cubes, but how do ice cubes make the liquid in your drink cold? The answer becomes clear when you understand thermal energy, which is the energy that comes from heat. In fact, the word 'thermal' refers to heat, so you can think of thermal energy as heat energy.

How Does Thermal Energy Work?

Thermal energy is produced by the movement of molecules in an object. You see, all objects are made up of tiny particles called molecules. In cold things, like ice cubes, the molecules move very slowly. In hot things, like a hot drink, the molecules move very fast. The faster the molecules are moving inside an object, the hotter the object will be. So, when you put ice cubes into your hot drink, they absorb the heat energy from the drink, which melts the ice and cools the drink.

How Does Thermal Energy Transfer?

Thermal energy transfers, or moves, between objects in three ways: radiation, conduction, and convection. Let's look at what these words mean and some examples of each.


Radiation is how something gains heat without touching the heat source. It's how planet Earth stays warm. The sun radiates thermal energy, and the earth absorbs it.

Radiation is also why you can warm your hands by a campfire. You don't have to be touching a fire to feel its heat. That's because fire radiates thermal energy. When you hold your hands near the flames, your cooler hands absorbs the heat and warm up.

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