Brazil Unit Study: Week 1

Welcome to Brazil, a land teeming with wildlife, beauty, and adventure! As the largest country in South America, Brazil has many things to boast about including having the largest intact rainforest in the world. This week, we will be introduced to the history of this country, the people who call it home and their stories, and virtually visit some famous sites you will want to put in your bucket list of places to see one day. Lessons will include science applications as well as writing projects, and we will end the week by preparing the national dish, feijoada. Now, vamos! (Let’s go!) Click here to download your skills tracker.

What you need:

Books (find at your local library or order below on Amazon):

Optional chapter book:

Supplies (use what you have, but here are links to shop if you need anything):

Note: We break down our supply list so you can choose what you need based on which lessons you plan to do with your child.

Edible map of Brazil:

Star finder activity:

Macramé doll:

Rainstick craft:

  • sturdy cardboard tube (the empty cardboard tube from an aluminum foil roll, a wrapping paper roll, or a small shipping tube can work well)
  • paint
  • brown paper grocery or lunch bag (remnant fabric would also work)
  • yarn (optional)
  • rubber bands
  • 4-6 pipe cleaners and/or craft wire (you could also crunch aluminum foil pieces into long, thin, snake-like shapes, then twist each one into a spring shape.)
  • ¼ cup of beads, rice, beans, unpopped popcorn, or other materials that will make noise for inside the rainstick

Cable car craft:

Feijoada recipe options:

What to do:

We recommend doing the below lessons in this order to build on each skill your child will develop, but don’t feel that you *need* to do them in this order. Do what works for you and your child. If they love an activity, feel free to repeat! Not a winner? Skip and try the next thing. Have fun!

Lesson 1:

For our first day of activities, let’s spend some time learning about the geography of Brazil.

Activity 1: Brazil is the largest country in South America and the fifth largest nation in the world. It forms an enormous triangle on the eastern side of the continent with a 4,500-mile (7,400-kilometer) coastline along the Atlantic Ocean. It has borders with every South American country except Chile and Ecuador. 

The Brazilian landscape is very varied. It is most well known for its dense forests, including the Amazon Rainforest, the world’s largest jungle, in the north. But there are also dry grasslands (called pampas), rugged hills, pine forests, sprawling wetlands, immense plateaus, and a long coastal plain.” (source + click here to see a map of Brazil)

Print out this map to help you create your own edible map of Brazil. You will need:

  • rice cereal
  • marshmallows
  • parchment paper
  • non-stick spray
  • masking tape (optional)
  • rolling pin (optional)
  • white frosting
  • green frosting 
  • black frosting (in a tube for easy use)
  • M&M candies
  • brown sprinkles
  • brown chocolate bar or any brown candy


1. Prepare this rice crispy treat recipe.

2. Cover your flat cooking surface with a large sheet of parchment paper and spray with nonstick spray. (Tip: Tape the ends of the parchment paper with masking tape to keep it from moving on your counter.) Pour mixture onto the parchment/ flat surface and cover with another piece of parchment paper. Roll out flat using a rolling pin or with your hands. You need to make it large enough to cut out a map and a square that will be our map key.

3. Cut out the shape of Brazil using this map as a reference. You may need to cut and attach pieces to get the shape right. It should look something like this:

4. Next, coat the map of Brazil in white frosting.

5. Add strokes of green frosting to create the green lush landscape where the Amazon Rainforest would be. Sprinkle brown sprinkles along the map where there isn’t rainforest.

5. We will decorate the map with candy as we continue learning about the geography of Brazil in today’s lesson. This will include the capital, three major cities, the Amazon River, and the mountain ranges.

6. Once you have completed your map, label your map key using black frosting.

Activity 2: Discover the capital and cities of Brazil. Read about three of Brazil’s cities (Rio de Janeiro, San Paulo, and Manaus) on this geography site. Find these cities on this map. Next, use orange M&Ms to mark these places on your edible map. 

Next, locate and learn about the capital of Brazil. Click here to find out what it is.

Brasilia has some amazing architectural features. Click here to see some of the incredible buildings and designs in this capital city. Finally, identify the capital city with a red M&M candy on your editable map.

Activity 3: One of the Brazil’s most distinguishable features is its river, the Amazon River. This 4,000 mile river is home to many animals and supports wildlife and human life around it. Its headwaters are in the Andes Mountains in Peru, on the western edge of South America, and it flows eastward into the Atlantic Ocean near the equator. It accounts for about one fifth of the world’s total river flow. (source)

Here are some of the ways humans and animals benefit from the Amazon River:

  • We get hydroelectric power from the river.
  • We build dams all along the Amazon river to build up pressure.
  • We use it for travel, we send tours down it to get money and we send other types of ships down it.
  • The indigenous people carry food down it and canoe down it to trade.
  • It is fresh water, so animals can drink from it.
  • People grow crops on the banks of it.

Using blue icing or blue M&Ms, create the river system of the Amazon River on your edible map. 

We will learn a lot about the Amazon Rainforest in the coming week, but for now, locate the general area of the rainforest on your edible map and label it with green sprinkles. (This map might help.) Use brown candy bar pieces or the brown M&Ms to show where the mountains are.

Finish your map by completing the map key. Use the black frosting to write and identify the map features like the capital, cities, river, rainforest, and mountains. Take a picture of your completed map before you enjoy it for dessert!

Activity 4: Brazil is the largest country in South America and fifth largest in the world. It has four time zones, and its flag looks like this:

The nation’s flag consisted of a green background with a yellow diamond in the center filled with a blue globe. Within the blue globe are 27 stars forming nine different constellations representing one star for each of the country’s states. A white banner with the country’s slogan: Ordem e Progresso, which means Order and Progress, is spread across the globe.

Some say that the green and yellow came to be chosen as the Brazilian colors because they are associated with the lush green vegetation of the land and with its great mineral wealth, especially gold. But in reality they were chosen because of the country’s history with the royal houses of Portugal and Austria. We will learn more about this history in the coming lessons.

The stars are a symbolic part of the flag. They represent the constellations in the southern hemisphere and show how they were seen from Rio de Janeiro during the early hours of the morning on November 15, 1889. (source) Constellations are groups of stars. The constellations you can see at night depend on your location on Earth and the time of year. Constellations look like a particular shape in the sky, and have been given a name. Astronomers today still use constellations to name stars and meteor showers. (source) Read this NASA website to learn more about constellations and why they appear to move in the night sky. 

The constellations represented on the flag of Brazil include: Virgo constellation, the Canis Major, Hydra, Carina, the Crux, Scorpius, Triangulum Australe, and Octans. Do this NASA star finder activity to learn about and find the constellation in your night sky.

Lesson 2:

Note to parents: Today’s lessons are all about the peoples of Brazil. We will also be discussing colonization and slavery in this lesson. For help on discussing difficult history with your children, be sure to read this post on our blog.

Activity 1: Native Brazilians comprise a large number of distinct ethnic groups who have inhabited what is now the country of Brazil for centuries. Prior to European colonization, there were millions of people divided into several hundred tribes. Today, their numbers are only about 300,000. Click here to see pictures of and learn about various communities. 

Next, look at some of the beautiful art that indigenous women are creating to support their families. One very special art unique to Brazil’s Indigenous people is wooden benches. You can see one here at the Fralin Museum of Art.

The hammock was of great importance in Brazilian society since the dawn of discovery and throughout the colonial era. The Brazilian hammock is a legacy of Indigenous people of South America and Brazil. Indigenous Natives considered the hammock a necessary accessory, as it was not just a utilitarian object but also specific to each race depending on the style and colors. The size and elaborate details of the hammock also indicated social status. Today, hammocks are made in various shapes and materials but also from traditional yarn, woven on looms. The hammock is still traditionally used for rest at homes, in gardens, and in country houses, but in northeastern Brazil there are still Indigenous villages that have not exchanged it with a bed. (source) You can see a picture of native Brazilians using hammocks here.

Watch this video to see how hammocks are made. The ends of the hammock are woven using a knotting style called macramé. Next, let’s make a macramé doll with this tutorial.

Activity 2: Pedro Álvares Cabral was a Portuguese nobleman, navigator, and explorer who was the first European to see Brazil on the 22nd of April, 1500. (source) Portugal established its colony in Brazil in 1530. Colonists created sugarcane plantations along the coast and sent diamonds and gold back to Europe. Soon, people from West Africa were brought by force as enslaved people to Brazil. The discovery of large inland gold reserves brought thousands of people from the coasts and as far away as Europe to the interior of the country. (source)

Watch this video for an animated history of Brazil, (+) or watch this one for more details.

An estimated 4.9 million enslaved people from Africa were imported to Brazil during the period of 1501 to 1866. The enslaved people were brought to the Portuguese colony to work on sugar, tobacco, and (later) coffee plantations. Enslaved people also were forced to mine gold and diamonds. The sad history of slavery ended in 1866, Brazil was as one of the last colonies to abolish slavery. Read the book When the Slave Esperanca Garcia Wrote a Letter to learn more about the life of one enslaved woman. 

Next, read the picture book How Night Came From the Sea to see a beautifully illustrated story of an enslaved African woman in Brazil looking to her African goddess for relief from the hardships of forced labor. 

The West Africans brought their customs, music, and dance to life in Brazil, and these can still be seen in the customs, music, and dance of Brazil today. In fact, much of Brazilian culture today is a mix of African and indigenous customs. Watch a small portion of this documentary, starting at 7:55 and stopping at 12:00.

Let’s look at an example of this cross-cultural mix. Since the dawn of civilization, humans have relied on rain so they could grow crops and have drinking water. But as important as rain is, humans haven’t had much knowledge of how weather worked for most of our history. Without scientific knowledge or instruments, we came up with other explanations for weather patterns, including many rituals and superstitions. In many cultures, summoning rain often included the use of musical instruments. One well-known example is a rainstick, an instrument that mimics the sound of rain. They are traditionally made from dead cactus tubes with cactus spines hammered to the inside and filled with tiny pebbles. (source)

Look at here and here to see examples of rainsticks from Brazil. Next, make your own rainstick craft

 Activity 3: Brazil tried to become an independent state in 1789 when they kick out their Portuguese rulers. The rebellion was soon put down, but it started a movement toward independence. The Regent Prince, Dom Pedro, son of the Portuguese king, Dom João VI, was authorized to rule if the king either died or returned to Portugal. Upon his father’s return to Portugal in 1821, Dom Pedro took over, eventually declaring allegiance with Brazil. Brazilian independence was officially proclaimed September 22, 1822. Kings of Portuguese blood ruled until 1888, when military leaders and landowners expelled the king, and Brazil became a federal republic.(source)

Brazil celebrates Independence Day on September 7, or, as they say in Brazil, Sete de Setembro! (source) On Independence Day, Brazil celebrations throughout the country include civilian-military patriotic parades in all the city centers. Various public and military colleges participate in these parades.

Watch this video to learn more about the history of Sete de Setembro and how it is celebrated today.

If desired, now would be a great time to introduce the chapter book Journey to the River Sea.

Lesson 3:

Activity 1: Research Brazilian folk stories. As with most myths and legends, Brazilian folklore reflects several aspects of the country’s history and culture. Many myths have roots in European legends (mainly from Portuguese folklore), African mythologies, and various Native-Brazilian mythologies. (source

Let’s begin by examining the characteristics of folk stories with the help of a lesson from The Kennedy Center

Elements of Folktales:

  • Folktales are usually about ordinary people and everyday life.
  • The stories include setting, characters, and a problem.
  • The characters are often flat, representing one particular trait such as cleverness.
  • Hyperbole is always found in tall tales.

Common Folktale Motifs:

  • wishes granted
  • a monster
  • magic objects
  • use of trickery
  • a poor person becomes rich
  • the number three is significant
  • the youngest or smallest of siblings is successful after others in the family fail
  • a variety of unwise characters

The Folktale Formula:

  • The plot begins quickly.
  • Characters are one-sided.
  • Plots move along well-trod paths.
  • All questions are answered before the story ends.

Types of Folktales:

  • tales of talking animals
  • tales that tell why (“pourquoi“)
  • tales of magic (fairy tales)
  • cumulative tales
  • tales of exaggeration or legendary tales (tall tales) 

Activity 2: Read + Discuss. Let’s read a Brazilian tale together and identify with characteristics our folktale has. Read the book The Dancing Turtle: A Folktale from Brazil (or read it here on OpenLibrary or listen to this read aloud). 

After reading the story, discuss it with the help of these questions:

  • What was the plot of this animal tale?
  • What do you think the moral of the story is?
  • What lesson did the characters learn?
  • What does the story teach you about the culture of the characters?

Activity 3: Write your own folk story using the outline suggestions created by The Kennedy Center Education Department here

Lesson 4:

Let’s explore some famous sites of Brazil!

Activity 1: There are so many famous sites to see if you ever take a trip to Brazil. This article shares photos of many of the highlights. One common feature in much of the architecture is mosaic art, and one of the most famous examples is the Escadaria Selarón in Rio de Janeiro, 125 meters of tile covered steps created by Brazilian artist Jorge Selarón. Click here to see and read more about this amazing landmark, which took 13 years to create.

Mosaic is a picture or pattern produced by arranging together small colored pieces of hard material, such as stone, tile, or glass. Let’s create our own using painted beans using this tutorial.

Activity 2: Let’s visit our next historical site: Cristo Redentor and Corcovado, Rio de Janeiro. In 1921, the Roman Catholic archdiocese of Rio de Janeiro proposed that a statue of Christ be built on the 2,310-foot (704-meter) summit. It wasn’t until after World War I when the Roman Catholic archdiocese in Rio and a group of locals started becoming concerned about the “lack of religious faith” in the Brazilian community, and it was hoped that by placing a massive statue of Jesus on top of a mountain in Rio, it would fight back against what they saw as an “increasing godlessness” in the country. It was requested that the statue be placed on the summit of Mount Corcovado so it would be visible from anywhere and everywhere in Rio, and thus represent a way of “reclaiming Rio” (which was Brazil’s capital city at that time) to Christianity. (source) The statue of Christ the Redeemer was completed in 1931 and stands 98 feet (30 meters) tall, its horizontally outstretched arms spanning 92 feet (28 meters). The statue has become a symbol of both the city of Rio de Janeiro and the whole nation of Brazil. (source

Despite this huge Catholic symbol coming to represent Brazil, its constitution states freedom of conscience and belief. It provides for the free exercise of religious beliefs and prohibits federal, state, and local governments from either supporting or hindering any religion. According to a 2019 Datafolha survey, 50 percent of the population identifies as Roman Catholic. Atheists and those with no religion represent 11 percent, and the proportion of evangelical Christians is 31 percent. Adherents of other Christian groups, including Jehovah’s Witnesses, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Seventh-day Adventists, as well as followers of non-Christian religions, including Buddhists, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and Afro-Brazilian and syncretic religious groups, such as Candomble and Umbanda, make up a combined 3 percent of the population. According to the census, there are approximately 600,000 practitioners of Candomble, Umbanda, and other Afro-Brazilian religions. According to recent surveys, many Brazilians consider themselves followers of more than one religion. (source)

Visit the site of Christ the Redeemer virtually here. As you “tour,” discuss what it would be like living under the shadow of such a massive symbol. If your family has Christian beliefs, how might that impact you? If you do not, what effect would the statue have on your way of life?

Activity 3: Discover Sugarloaf Mountain. Around the world there are several hundred hills, mountains, ridges, and rock formations named Sugarloaf. But the most famous is probably the Brazilian Sugarloaf Mountain, located in Rio de Janeiro. At a height of 396 m (1,299 ft), Sugarloaf is visited by over a million people each year. (source) Its name was coined during the sugar trade of the 16th Century, although it wasn’t formalized until the middle of the 19th Century. It got its name because of its shape—the sugar industry packed sugar into loaves shaped like bread, just like the shape of the mountain. (source)

Sugarloaf Mountain was formed underground, probably within a fracture in the sedimentary layers above it. Over time, this granite was forced up through the softer rock, which eroded and fell away. The granite rock is some 600 million years old and very hard. The process of arriving to the surface was thus a very long one, even in mountain building terms. (source)

The best way to go to the top of Pão de Açúcar/Sugarloaf Mountain is via cable cars. These leave every 30 minutes and can carry as many as 75 passengers. You can watch a video of the cable car here. Feel free to skip around the video to see it from different places. Let’s learn how cable cars work with the help of this video

Complete the lesson by making your own cable car craft

Lesson 5:

Activity 1: Feijoada is one of the most popular dishes of Brazil and is eaten in every corner of the country. The word feijoada comes from the word feijão, which is Portuguese for beans. Feijoada is a black bean stew that is brewed with a variety of salted and smoked pork and beef products from carne-seca to smoked pork spareribs. The more traditional feijoada also includes “cheaper” cuts, such as pig’s ears, feet, and tails, and beef tongue. The rich, smoky stew is then served with rice, sautéed collard greens or kale, and orange slices and topped with toasted cassava flour (farofa). The meal is just as warm, comforting, rich, and vibrant as the music, people, and culture of Brazil.

But where does this national symbol come from? Feijoada’s origin has recently come under questioning. The long-believed tale is that it was created by enslaved people on sugar cane plantations who took the scraps of meat not eaten by their masters (pigs ears, feet, and tails) and cooked them with black beans, which were native to Brazil and the foundation of their diets. However, recent Brazilian scholars disagree with the basis of this story. The main setback is that the “scraps” of meat were actually highly regarded at the time by the Europeans. Also, feijoada has more of a resemblance to the European stews, most specifically the pork and bean cozido from Portugal, than the native and African bean dishes. The enslaved people may have been the ones who first started making feijoada, but most likely they were making it for their masters’ palates. (source)

Would you like to try feijoada? Here are a few recipe options depending on your family’s dietary needs:

Activity 2: Watch this video to learn how to grow black beans in your home garden. If you live in a place that has soil temperatures over 70 degrees, you might be able to start your own black bean garden outside. Follow these directions to germinate and plant and harvest beans at home in a pot.

Print this life cycle printable and review this website. What do you notice about each stage? Write one sentence to describe each stage. Use as many descriptive words (adjectives) as you can.

***Post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase through a link, we may receive a small commission at no cost to you. Thank you for supporting our small business!***

Published by The Learn + Live Letter

The Learn + Live Letter is a play- and project-based homeschool curriculum for children ages 3-12.