Brazil Unit Study: Week 3

This week is full of fascinating Brazilian facts! We will learn about Brazilian Portuguese, meet famous Brazilian inventors who have left their mark, and discover artists who have put Brazil’s landscapes in some of the most prestigious museums of the world. We will also explore one of our favorite Brazilian plants, the coffee plant. Students will have the opportunity to sharpen their critical thinking and problem solving skills as we learn about conservation and the life cycle of three different plants native to Brazil. Finally we will learn the super powers behind the acai berry and make a sweet breakfast bowl as we learn about nutrition and health. Let’s dig into Week 3 of Brazil! Click here to download and print your skills tracker.

What you need:

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

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.

Surrealism + Cubism painting:

Air pressure experiment:

Coffee painting:

Kapok paper craft:

Brazil nut effect activity:

Water cycle project:

Algae pollution experiment:

DIY rain gauge:

(+) Stomata comparison activity:

Acai bowl recipe:

Vitamin C challenge:

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:

Introduce the chapter book Recipe for Adventure: Rio de Janeiro!

Activity 1: People living in Brazil speak Portuguese, sometimes referred to as Brazilian Portuguese. The roots of the Portuguese language are based in Galicia, a region in the northwest of Spain. And, just like Spanish, it is the result of an organic evolution of Latin—brought by the soldiers of the Roman empire—with some influences from other languages spoken prior to the Roman domination.

Language changes over time and the Portuguese language is no different. The Portuguese spoken in Brazil is different from the language spoken in Portugal. Similar to the accent differences between American and British English, Portuguese has also developed differently on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. (source)

A few English words we use often today actually come from Portuguese. Here are a few examples:

  • Cashew: from caju, a tropical fruit
  • Coconut: from coco + nut
  • Mosquito: from mosquito, meaning ‘little fly’
  • Potato: from batata

Here’s a list of 25 English words with Portuguese origins.

Let’s learn a few Portuguese expressions with the help of this video tutorial. Want to learn a Brazilian rhyme you might recognize? Click here for the Brazilian Portuguese version of Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Moe.

Activity 2: The name Brazil comes from a tree named brazilwood. When the Portuguese arrived in the land now called Brazil, the brazilwood tree was everywhere. It was a considerably good export for them, and because there were so many, they gave its name to the country. The wood is reddish-orange in color and was highly sought after in Europe after its discovery, particularly for the dye extracted from it for use in high-end fabrics. While the demand for it was consistently high, the supply soon dwindled and the economy surrounding it broke down.

These days, even though the wood is no longer needed to dye fabric,  the demand for brazilwood remains strong in an area one might not expect: classical instrument making, specifically in the production of violin bows. Unfortunately, the species is near extinction today, not only due to the long-abandoned transatlantic trade but also because of deforestation efforts from what came after, mainly due to sugarcane and coffee production. Today, it’s a protected species, but that doesn’t stop illegal removal in areas that aren’t always actively policed. There are even licensed suppliers in terms of bow-selling, and foreign buyers have become educated on the subject and typically request proof against illegal harvesting. (source)

Read and review this article to see pictures of the trees and learn a few extra details about the use of Brazilwood and its history. 

Let’s take a detour and learn more about the anatomy of trees in general. Start by watching this video to review what students might already know about tree rings. Next, do this lesson. Read the “background” document along with your child. Learn how trees are cored to read their rings and how the coloring and thickness of the rings determine what scientists can learn about an entire forest by investigating a single tree.

(+) Next, open this website by Penn State. Scroll down to the “Introduction” subheading and read that paragraph. Print out these links: data sheet, tree layers, and tree rings. Follow the directions in the “Procedure” link to learn how to investigate tree rings to tell the age of a tree and other environmental factors that affected their growth and development. 

(-) Want something a little simpler? Try this tree ring activity.

Lesson 2:

Today, we’ll take another look at some famous people and arts of Brazil.

Activity 1: Discover Tarsila do Amaral. Do Amaral is a famous artist from Brazil and is considered one of the leading South American modernist artists.” What made her so special is that she was the first artist to have developed a distinctly Brazilian identity in her art. Like many of her peers, she studied art in Europe, absorbing the avant-garde (new ideas) art movements of the early 1920s. She applied the bold, modernist set of principles and applied them to her Brazilian subjects: everyday scenes in the homes and the nature and wild animals of the Amazon. (source)

Watch the video The Story of Tarsila do Amaral, created by The Little Stories of Great Women Artists series to learn more about her life and her art. 

Do Amaral’s works were featured at the MOMA in 2018. Let’s examine one of her paintings more closely You can learn more about the painting here

After looking at the Abaporu painting, what do you notice about this painting? Consider these questions together: 

  • What do you notice about the colors in the picture?
  • Why would she choose to only use a few colors? 
  • What do you notice about the edges in the shapes of the person, the sun, the cactus? Would it look or feel differently if the shapes were more sharp or squared off?
  • Do Amaral loved painting the outdoors. What do you notice about the setting of this picture? What do you like about it? What do you consider weird?

Two art forms that do Amaral enjoyed painting include:

  1. Surrealism: Painting the images that are in your mind. They can be inspired by dreams or by your imagination. Watch this video for a better understanding of this art movement. 
  2. Cubism: The most distinct feature of Cubism is that it completely disregards the three-dimensional perspective. The objects within the scene are fragmented into many different geometric components, each representing the objects from a slightly different perspective (from the left, the right, the top, or the bottom). The artists then arrange each fragment on the canvas to present the subject of the painting from many different perspectives at the same time.(source) Watch this video to learn more. 

Do Amaral incorporated these styles in her artwork while also making them very unique to Brazil. (source)

Next, create your own Surrealism or Cubism artwork. Pick a place in your home to draw (or any other place in your area that inspires you). As we learned in our videos and lessons, surrealism and cubism are not forms of art that require you to draw exactly what you see. You can take lots of liberties with this art project. Once you have penciled in your art and like what you have drawn, color it in with paint.

Activity 2: A famous Brazilian inventor named Bartolomeu de Gusmao is known for making the first successful flying machine on July 23, 1709. (source) It is considered the first hot-air balloon according to Guinness World Records.(source

Let’s learn more about hot air balloons by reading this online article.

Next, let’s learn the science behind hot air balloons by watching this video.

Finally, discover how hot and cold air affect the air pressure, let’s try this STEM experiment

Activity 3: We learned about the many venomous animals that live in the Amazon rainforest in our book Wicked Bugs. A Brazilian who made quite an impact in protecting the local people from these dangerous animals was immunologist Vital Brazil, who discovered antivenom serum used to treat the bite of a Crotalus, a rattlesnake, an anti-scorpion serum, and an anti-spider serum. Although he wasn’t the first person to make anti-venom, he was focused on the venomous creatures of his home country. He was the founder of the Butantan Institute, a research center located in São Paulo, which was the first in the world dedicated exclusively to basic and applied toxicology, the science of venomous animals.

Watch this video to learn how to make antivenom. This video shares more information.

Let’s learn more about scorpions here and in this video

The scorpion body is divided into three segments:

  1. The prosoma, or cephalothorax (head)
  2. The mesosoma (abdomen)
  3. The metasoma (tail)

Each of the three segments contains key characteristics of scorpions:

  1. The prosoma includes the eyes, mouth, and the pair of claws (called pedipalps), which have pinchers on the end called chelae. The pedipalps are not legs, rather they are additional appendages used to grab and hold prey, mates, or a rival scorpion during competition.
  2. The mesosoma consists of seven segments and contains 4 pairs of clawed walking legs, which enable scorpions to climb nearly any surface. The segments of the mesosoma contain the reproductive, respiratory, and other organs.
  3. The metasoma is the familiar tail of the scorpion, which comprises five additional segments and terminates in the telson. The telson contains a pair of venom glands and a hypodermic aculeus or venom-injecting barb (stinger) that allows the scorpion to sting prey or predators or humans. (source)

Practice reviewing and identifying the parts of the scorpion with this printable.

Lesson 3:

Today’s activities are all about some of the most famous plants of Brazil.

Activity 1: Discover the coffee bean. Are you a coffee drinker? What is poured into your coffee cup actually starts as coffee cherries. Farmers pick the coffee cherries when they are dark red in color. Beans are then milled to separate the husk from the seed. Next, they dry the beans in the sun for several days before removing an outer layer of the seed called parchment. Finally, the beans are roasted before they are ready to be ground into coffee powder to brew.


Watch this quick video showing the coffee making process. 

(+) Want more? Watch this video to see the entire drying method process, from harvesting and milling to drying and roasting.

(-) Need an imaginative play break? Let’s play pretend coffee shop with this activity and free printable.

Finally, lets use coffee to create art with this tutorial!

Activity 2: Discover the Kapok Tree. Read the book The Great Kapok Tree: A Story of the Amazon Rain Forest (or read it here on OpenLibrary). The giant of the Amazon Rainforest is the kapok—the tree often reaches a height of 200 feet or more. To stabilize such mass on flood-prone riverbanks, the trunks can grow up to ten feet wide and are supported by buttresses of roots. Indigenous people carve the lightweight wood into canoes, and the seed oil is used to make soap and medicines. (source


The white and pink flowers of the kapok tree emit a foul odor that attracts bats. As the flying mammals move from flower to flower feasting on the nectar, they transfer pollen on their fur, thus facilitating pollination. 


The kapok tree does a great job at spreading its seeds, producing anywhere between 500 and 4,000 fruits at one time, with each fruit containing 200 seeds. When these fruits burst open, silky fibers spread the many seeds all over the forest. (source)

The pod packs A LOT of fiber inside—almost 4 cups (loosely) of fiber from just one fruit! The cotton fiber is traditionally used to fill pillows, mattresses, and even plush toys. Let’s use kapok fibers to make paper with this tutorial.

Activity 3: Discover the Brazil nut. Brazil nut trees live in the understory layer of the Amazon. They are one of the largest and longest-living trees in the Amazon rainforest. The fruit and its nutshell, which contains the edible Brazil nut, are relatively large, weighing up to 2 kg (4 lb 7 oz) in total weight. The Brazil nut is a large tree, reaching 50 m (160 ft) tall and with a trunk 1 to 2 m (3 ft 3 in to 6 ft 7 in) in diameter, making it among the largest of trees in the Amazon rainforest. It may live for 500 years or more and can often reach a thousand years of age. The stem is straight and commonly without branches for well over half the tree’s height with a large, emergent crown of long branches above the surrounding canopy of other trees. (source

Watch this video to see how important the Brazil Nut tree is to the Amazonian ecosystem. Click here to see a brazil nut flower be pollinated by a carpenter bee. 

Which brings us to a physics phenomenon called the Brazil Nut Effect! The Brazil Nut Effect (its official name is “granular convection”) refers to size-separation of granular material in response to jostling and stirring. Put simply, it means that when you have a mixture of differently sized objects and shake them, larger objects end up on top. (AKA, the way the Brazil nuts tend to rise to the top of cans of mixed nuts.) Let’s test this out! Here are two methods to try: this one with rice and marbles or this one done with sand and LEGOs.

Lesson 4:

There are so many wonderful plants, animals, and people found in the Amazon Rainforest—which is why it is so important to protect it. In today’s activities, we’ll learn about some conservation efforts being made to protect this natural treasure.

Activity 1: Earth’s natural resources include air, water, soil, minerals, plants, and animals. Conservation is the practice of caring for earth’s limited resources so all living things can benefit from them now and in the future. Brazil has many natural resources that need protection, including the Amazon Rainforest, the animals and plants that live there, the air, the river basins, and the ocean water. (source)

Let’s focus on one of those resources that require our protection: water. Begin by reading the book One Well: The Story of Water on Earth by Rochelle Strauss (or this read aloud part 1 and part 2). For a video summary of the water cycle, watch this video.

Next, bring the water cycle to life with this LEGO water cycle project. (If you don’t have LEGOs, you can also draw the cycle on graph paper.)

Finally, review ways that you can conserve water at home with the help of this website and game.

Activity 2: Sadly, major rivers in the Amazon Basin of Brazil are contaminated with a wide range of pollutants as well as with sewage and wastewater. (source) Review this information and learn what is polluting the water and how you can help. Next, read the book You Wouldn’t Want to Live Without Clean Water! 

Although algae is a natural, important part of our lakes, rivers, and ocean ecosystems, the addition of pollutants into the water alters the amount of algae and creates unhealthy levels that throw off these balanced habitats. Let’s see this in action. This STEM experiment will require access to pond, lake, river, or ocean water where algae can be found, and it will help your child see how humans create pollution that alters our environment. (Note: Please pay special attention to the instructions and never mix chemicals.)

Be sure to use the scientific method worksheet provided by the blogger. 

Activity 3: Every year, the Amazon rainforest receives torrential rainfall—between 60 inches (1,500 mm) and 120 inches (3,000 mm). (source

To compare the rainfall in the Amazon to your local rainfall, create a water gauge and compare your numbers. Follow the directions in this post and track your rainfall with their free printable.

(+) Activity 4: Let’s upgrade our understanding of the water cycle. The evaporation process that we learned about in the previous lesson is when water changed from the liquid state and turned into a gas. This can happen whether the water is in a large body of water, like a river or an ocean, or when it is puddled in a plant or on the ground. 

When evaporation occurs in plants, water is lost through microscopic pores in the plant’s leaves (called stomata). This process is called transpiration. Transpiration differs from evaporation not only because it occurs in plants, but also because the plants have some control over how much water they lose. Plants can actively open and close their stomata, limiting how much water they lose. (source) (We learned a bit about this with the cactus in our Level 2+: Desert Unit!)

Watch this video to see the difference between evaporation and transpiration. Now that you know the difference, go back to your LEGO evaporation project and add transpiration to the cycle. 

Finally, let’s compare stomata from two or three different leaves with this STEM experiment. (Note to parents: This experiment requires a microscope. We have linked a fairly inexpensive kid-friendly option in our supply list, but you may be able to borrow a microscope from your local library or use it while at the library. You can also use the STEMKids Microscope.) 

Lesson 5:

Time for some food history, plus a peek into the nutrition behind a famous native Brazilian fruit.

Activity 1: The history of açaí is rooted deep in the traditions of the Amazon people and the modern countries that occupy that territory. The açaí (ah-sigh-ee) berry has been around for thousands of years, but it was not introduced to the western world until the 1990s. The tribes of the Amazon Rainforest first used the berry to treat various ailments due to its tremendous health properties. In fact, it is estimated that the indigenous tribes regularly use two thousand of the three thousand known rainforest fruits for medicinal purposes. (source)

Today, açaí is enjoyed by millions of people outside of Brazil, often as a sorbet (with banana, strawberry, or granola added for extra flavor and texture), as a smoothie, a juice, in powder form, or even added into a main meal using its raw berry form.

Prepare an acai bowl with this authentic Brazilian recipe

Activity 2: Açaí is considered a superfood, a nutrient-rich food considered to be especially beneficial for health and well-being. It is also a fruit, which is one of the five major food groups. Let’s learn about food groups in this video lesson.

Besides learning about food groups, it’s also important to learn how to read food labels in order to make good and healthy food choices. The ingredient list is part of the nutrition label. Helping kids learn common ingredient items is important. Let’s watch this video to learn how to read a food label. Next, let’s watch this video to learn more about the nutrients found in our food like proteins, fats, and sugars.

The FDA has a good page for more information on nutrition labels. Review reading the label together before moving on to the scavenger hunt game.

Using your new-found knowledge, look at your pantry together and read the labels on your packaging. Look for terms like:

  • “juice” vs “drink” or “beverage”: If the mixture is less than 100% juice, it must be called beverage/drink
  • “high” or “rich in”: A food must have 20% of the daily value of that nutrient—“good source” must have 10-19% .
  • “Natural”: Surprise! This term has no nutrition meaning on food products.
  • Some labels also include the percentage of whole grains in a product. (source)

Let’s play a scavenger hunt game in our kitchens. Print out these pages, and have your child hunt through the pantry and refrigerator for foods that match the food labels on the worksheet.

Activity 3: Açaí contains a good amount of Vitamin C, more than several other types of berries, like blueberries. In addition, the presence of calcium, iron, and potassium makes them a nutritional powerhouse. Additionally, acai contains a good amount of fiber, which helps in the digestion and assimilation processes. (source)

Let’s do a STEM challenge and test for vitamin C in some of our favorite foods! Follow the Vitamin C Challenge steps as detailed in this video created by the USDA. If possible, add acai berry juice to your experiment too and compare its vitamin C content compared to the oranges.

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Published by The Learn + Live Letter

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