Student Activities

Cardboard Caving

Overall Rating

Add your review
Grade Level:
Upper Elementary: Third Grade through Fifth Grade
State Standards:

Materials: For the cave: various cardboard boxes (large and small), utility knives or a serrated blade (i.e. leatherman), tape (duct works but gorilla is the best), sheets or tarps (optional)

For the speleothems: scotch tape, straws (or small bells), plastic or paper cups, paper, yarn (or string), large nail, cardboard dividers that separate glass bottles for shipping, hot glue (optional)

Key Vocabulary: speleothem, speleogen

Background: Speleothems are secondary mineral formations meaning that they formed after the cave. Examples include cave popcorn, frostwork, stalactites, and stalagmites. These formations are created when water seeping through the ground hits a cave and deposited a small amount of mineral. Speleothems are formed over thousands of years and are deposited on top of the existing cave. Speleogens are similar but form inside the bedrock at the same time as the cave. They are exposed when the surrounding bedrock is eroded away. Wind Cave’s most prominent speleogen is boxwork. Since these processes take so long, it is extremely important for a caver to limit his or her impact on the cave. If a cave formation is broken, it may remain broken permanently or take many lifetimes to be replaced.


  1. The cave can be as ambitious as you want it to be. It can consist of one, two, or 10 boxes. Your imagination (and time constraints) are the limit. Adjust materials as needed.

     Cave Construction: Boxes can be connected using tape with arch-shaped holes cut between them. Fold the arch-shaped flap into the adjoining box to add stability.  

     Dead ends and turns may be added but make sure that big boxes are placed at these locations, so kids will have enough room to navigate.

     Cave decorations can be made in a variety of ways. (It may be easier to decorate boxes before cave creation) Stalactites can be formed by punching a hole in the box’s ceiling with the large nail and pushing through a length of yarn. Thread a straw through the string and tape both at the bottom of the straw and on top of the box where the yarn pokes through. An alternative is to hang jingle bells from the string and listen to see if students bump into them. This helps keep students quiet as well. Stalagmites can be formed by taping (or simply placing) cups on the bottom of boxes or the floor. Both of these formations can also be formed by rolling paper into a cone. Boxwork can be made by trimming the cardboard dividers and taping or gluing them to the sides and ceilings of boxes.

     When finished with the cave, drape sheets or tarps over the cave to cover any holes or gaps and feel free to disguise the shape of the cave by place chairs and other items under the sheet or tarp.

2. Talk about the different cave formations, how they are formed, and how long it takes them to form. 

3. Tell students to pretend that they have discovered a new cave and are about to explore it. It is their responsibility to not damage the cave as they explore. They must go through the cave being careful not to disturb any of the formations in the cave.

4. After each student has had a turn to go through the cave, discuss as a class what methods the students used to avoid damaging the cave. Afterwards, have students take another turn and discuss any damage they saw to the cave.

5. Remind students that when visiting caves such as Wind Cave National Park it is important to not touch any of the walls to avoid damaging these cave formations.