Last year, my kids and I studied a different biome each month. When looking at biomes, the world is generally divided into 5 major types: aquatic, deserts, forests, grasslands, and tundra. The plants and animals in each biome have adapted to their environment with special features that help them survive. Under the forests category, it is sub-divided into different types of forests, such as tropical rainforests, temperate forests, and boreal forests. Because I have visited parts of the Amazon as well as Costa Rica, I was excited to share what I had learned and they were really excited to take a closer look. We took a month to read books, watch films, and do some art projects related to tropical rain forests. Here are the resources we used.
Rainforests are characteristically rich in animal and plant life, having the greatest diversity of species of the biomes. My kids love to look at rainforest animals! Geographically, they are found in a band near the equator (shown in red in the image below). Tropical forests have 2 seasons- rainy and dry- and the temperature is a consistent 20-25° C (68-77° F)- not the hot and steamy temperatures we imagine, because the canopy of trees and the rain cool the air. Rainforest get about 2000 mm (around 79 inches) of rain per year, and the days and nights are each 12 hours long.
The canopy of the rainforests is multilayered, and a myriad of different plant and animal species living in these different layers. 50% of our world’s rainforests have already been destroyed by humans, and all could be lost within the next 30 years if we don’t stop our current rate of destruction.
The message for kids:
- The emergent (above the canopy), the canopy, the understorey, and the forest floor all have a variety of distinct flora and fauna.
- Rainforests are very important to the earth. The keep temperatures cool, they clean our air, and we get foods (chocolate, sugar, cinnamon, fruit) and medicine from the rainforest.
- Some people have been cutting down the trees to make roads, sell the precious wood, or make room for farms. When the trees are cut down, many plants and animals die because their environment has changed.
- Because rainforests are so important, we need to protect them.
Background Information about Rainforests
Blue Planet’s rainforest description: discusses characteristics, layers of a rainforest, plant life, animal life, locations, and climate.
Rainforest Alliance has some species profiles of rainforest animals, plants, and insects. Mongabay also has a lot of animal profiles, and information about the rainforest, its people, why it is disappearing, and what we can do to help.
Rain Tree has a wonderful compilation of facts about the rainforest, including information about how and why they are being destroyed, and the wealth of the rainforests: what they contain and what we are losing. They also have a great collection of links for kids doing projects on the rainforest.
7 Steps Kids Can Take to help save our rainforests from destruction, from the Rainforest Action Network.
Rainforest Photographs and Virtual Tours
This Amazon Rainforest Slideshow is fascinating for kids and adults, and includes maps, amazing photographs, and charts of the people, animals, and plants that are found in las amazonas. You must see at least one of their presentations; they also have incredible slideshows from Indonesia, Congo, New Guinea, Sulawesi, and others on specific animals.
At Rainforest Alliance, kids can take virtual trips to rainforests in Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Ecuador, the Amazon, Belize, Colombia, and Ghana.
NatGeo Kids has some wonderful photos of rainforests around the world.
Rainforest Readings and Books
Over in the Jungle by Marianne Berkes is a book meant to be sung to the tune of “Over in the Meadow.” Its whimsical photos are of intricate, textured polymer clay figures that grab your kids’ attention and keep it through the whole book. This book is a great introduction to many animal species of the rainforest.
The Rainforest Grew All Around by Susan K. Mitchell is a story sung to the tune of “The Green Grass Grew All Around, All Around.” My kids love books that are songs, and this repetitive lesson on wonderful plants and creatures of the lush Amazon captured their attention from beginning to end. In the sidebars, the authors satisfies curious learners with even more details about the jungle.
Nature’s Green Umbrella: Tropical Rain Forests by children’s science guru author Gail Gibbons is packed with clear details about rainforests, their climate, how the parts of the complex ecosytem work together to thrive and clean our air, descriptions of each layer and its plants and animals, the products we use from rainforests, and why they are under threat today.
Rainforest Alliance has Virtual Storybooks (on-line) about kids who live in the rainforest, all available in English, Spanish, and Portuguese.
For older kids (ages 10+), check out these Climate Case Studies from Rainforest Heroes, part of Rainforest Action Network. These were developed with the Environmental Justice Climate Change Initiative and adapted from Living on Earth.
Rainforest Alliance “Climb inside the Rainforest Alliance Treehouse to discover the many wonders of the rainforest and to learn more about the plants, animals and people that live there. In “Jewels of the Earth“, go on a virtual trek through the rainforest’s many layers. And in “Track it Back” you’ll see where some of our most popular foods come from: bananas, coffee, and chocolate.”
Here’s a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure-Type Ecotourism Game from eduweb. Kids pretend they are a family living in the Ecuadoran Rainforest, and must read and then make decisions to develop a sustainable ecotourism project.
Planet Earth, the Discovery Channel’s documentary about different regions of the earth, gives close-up and never seen before footage of the animals and plants that live in various ecosystems. Check out the “Jungles” episode to view rainforests around the world. It also has a children’s book highlighting animals of the rainforest that were showcased in the series.
Additional Rainforest Resources for Teachers
Mongabay Kids site has a list of free lesson plans such as internet scavenger hunts (aka web quests), lesson plans about logging, deforestation, and agriculture, interviews with scientists, etc.
Also check out this cute yoga story called “Sophia’s Jungle Adventure,” which lets kids act out an adventure through a Costa Rican rainforest, using yoga positions.
Here’s a cute morpho butterfly craft we made: