Level 2+: Brazil Unit

Olá! And welcome to our Level 2+: Brazil Unit! We are so excited to introduce your child to this beautiful country and culture, exploring the food, clothing, geography, animals, and more. (While improving their skills in math, science, literacy, and beyond!) Now, vamos! Click here to download this week’s skills tracker before beginning your activities.

Note: Occasionally we include project upgrades (for kids ready for more) and modifications (which can be useful for including younger siblings). We’ll mark those with the plus (+) or minus (-) symbols.

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):

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!

Phonics Guide:

New to our phonics guide? Start here. The Phonics Guide this week will highlight the phonogram IE.

Lesson 1:

There is so much to explore in Brazil! As the largest country in South America and the fifth largest country in the world, Brazil is made up of 26 states and 1 federal district, or a region that has its own government but is also controlled by a central government. (source) Let’s begin with a peek into one part of Brazil in the book From My Window. Next, watch this video for a broader overview of the country.

Activity 1: Brazil’s national flag boasts an impressive history. It is depicted as a green rectangle with a yellow diamond at its center. The diamond holds a deep blue disc with stars depicting the southern sky as seen over the city of Rio de Janeiro on the morning of Brazil’s Proclamation of the Republic, November 15, 1889. The 27 stars represent each Brazilian state plus the Federal District of Brasilia. Brazil’s national motto “Ordem e Progresso” (“Order and Progress” in English) rests on an arching, white banner.

Green represents the house of Bragança, the family of Brazil’s first Emperor, Dom Pedro. Yellow symbolizes the house of Habsburg-Lorraine, the family of Brazil’s first Empress of Brazil, Leopoldina. Brazil’s flag was officially adopted on November 19, 1889, replacing the provisional flag, which closely resembled the United States flag. You can click here to read more about the history of the flag.

Next, let’s get a little shape review and writing and cutting practice by building our own Brazil flag.

Start with a green piece of construction paper or cardstock. Next, have your child draw and cut out a yellow diamond and a blue circle. Use a white colored pencil, chalk marker, or these star stickers to add the stars. Finally, add a white banner and have your child write the motto in green pencil or marker.

Activity 2: Another interesting feature of Brazil is that much of it lies directly on the equator. As a result, much of Brazil has a tropical or subtropical climate. Let’s review what the equator is and how lines of latitude affect a country’s climate zone.

The equator is an imaginary circle around Earth. It divides Earth into two equal parts: the northern hemisphere and the southern hemisphere. It runs east and west halfway between the north and south poles. The distance around the equator is about 24,900 miles (40,000 kilometers).

The equator is the starting point for the measuring system called latitude. Latitude is a system of imaginary east-west lines, called parallels, that circle Earth parallel to the equator. Parallels are used to measure distances in degrees north or south of the equator. The latitude of the equator is zero degrees. (source)

Latitude (and their north-south counterparts, longitude) are a system of lines used to describe the location of any place on Earth. (source) We also use them to identify different zones that share similar characteristics. One example of this are geographical zones, which are zones that share similar climactic conditions. Our planet has five geographical zones: the North Frigid Zone, the North Temperate Zone, the Tropics, the South Frigid Zone, and the South Temperate Zone. The two temperate zones (the North and South Temperate Zones) share the same climatic characteristics, with their only difference being the location of each with regards to the tropics. The same can be said of the North and South Frigid Zone. Latitudes act as the boundaries separating the geographical zones from each other. (source)

Let’s create a map of the geographical zones! First, print this world map on a piece of cardstock (you could also use watercolor paper). Next, we’ll use our map to identify the different geographical zones. Including the equator, there are five major circles of latitude, from north to south:

  • The Arctic Circle (66° 33′ 38″ N)
  • The Tropic of Cancer (23° 26′ 22″ N)
  • The Equator (0° latitude)
  • The Tropic of Capricorn (23° 26′ 22″ S)
  • The Antarctic Circle (66° 33′ 38″ S)

These circles of latitude (excluding the equator) mark the divisions between the five principal geographical zones. (source) Use a crayon (any color is fine!) and a ruler to mark these latutide lines on your map. Next, use highlighters, light-colored washable markers, or watercolors to fill in each geographical zone:

  • The North Frigid Zone, north of the Arctic Circle
  • The North Temperate Zone, between the Arctic Circle and the Tropic of Cancer
  • The Torrid Zone, between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn
  • The South Temperate Zone, between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle
  • The South Frigid Zone, south of the Antarctic Circle

Create a key at the bottom of the map identifying which zone is represented by each color. As you can see, Brazil falls primarily in the tropical zone. But why is it hotter close to the equator? This video helps to explain it.

Activity 3: 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.
(-) Need something simpler for a younger child? Try these paper mosaics.

Lesson 2:

Brazil is a country with an ancient history as well as many modern advancements, which has resulted in many clashes of old and new. Let’s read about one fictionalized example of this based on a real-world issue in the book The Best Tailor in Pinbauê.

Activity 1: As a tailor, Uncle Flores in our book makes a variety of traditional clothing pieces.

The most popular traditional pieces of clothes in Brazil are bombachas pants, baiana dress, poncho, Carmen Miranda costume, and cowboy hat.

The bombachas are baggy pants often worn by gauchos—South American cowboys. They are comfortable for riding and look charming. Usually, bombachas are made from cotton. These traditionally are men’s trousers, but women can also wear them.

The baiana dress is female attire, and a rather opulent and richly decorated one. It consists of a light blouse (often made from or adorned with lace), a long flowing skirt made from light and airy fabric, a long colorful shawl, a turban, and some beaded jewelry. The fabric used to make the baiana dress is embellished with the traditional embroidery called “bordado.” This costume is breathy, light, and, at the same time, modest. Such fabrics, light as lace or actual lace, appeared in Brazil because of the Portuguese influence.

Brazilian poncho is called either “poncho” or “pala.” In general, it looks the same as any other South American poncho, only the patterns are different, typical for this particular culture and tradition. Poncho is outerwear, it is a rectangular piece of woven fabric with an opening at the center, used for the head. A traditional poncho doesn’t have sleeves or any openings for the arms. But it is a perfect outer garment for mountainous regions, for riding, and for some other activities.

The Carmen Miranda costume is a variation of a baiana dress. It was popularized by the local samba singer and actress Carmen Miranda. This attire is colorful, the skirt has a long slit showing the left leg of a woman, an ornate turban is adorned with feathers, flowers, and other decorations. This folk dress is a rather contemporary outfit—it became popular in the mid-20th century. Still, it is widely used by Brazilian women inside and far outside the country.

Let’s make some paper dolls inspired by traditional Brazilian clothing! Start by printing these doll bodies on white, brown, or otherwise flesh colored cardstock.

Next, use washable markers to color a variety of colors onto white coffee filters or cupcake liners. Spray the liners with a water bottle until the colors start to blend together. Let dry. (You may want to do this part on a cooling rack to help them dry quicker.)

While they are drying, have your child color in the paper doll bodies and glue on yarn for hair (or they can draw the hair).

Once the skirt material is dry, fold it in half (to create a skirt shape) and then inward on the edges to create a pleat effect. (Alternately, you could cut your filter to create gauchos for a boy doll.)

Glue the skirt onto the doll, and then cut out tops from felt. You could also create a contrasting sash or hair accessories with leftover felt. Glue these pieces onto your dolls to finish the look. They should look something like this:

If your child enjoys fashion crafts, they could also create jewelry or other accessories with markers, beads, fabric, thread, or paper.

Activity 2: While the majority of the countries surrounding Brazil speak Spanish, Portuguese is actually the primary language spoken in Brazil. This is because Brazil was colonized by Portugal, but the story is a bit more complicated than it first appears. You can read the full story here.

Let’s learn a little Portuguese for our next activity! This video teaches you some Portuguese numbers, and this video teaches greetings.

Activity 3: Chocolate also has a long history in Brazil—in fact, some scholars think it may even be the birthplace of chocolate! (source) Today, Brazil is still the 7th-largest producer of cocoa in the world (source), and one of Brazilians favorite ways to eat the treat is in brigadeiros, or fudge balls. Let’s make some of our own with this recipe!

Lesson 3:

Brazil also contains much of the Amazon Rainforest! We have learned quite a bit about the rain forest in past units (check out our Level 2: Forest Unit and Level 2+: Peru Unit for other activities), so today we will learn more about the river, conservation, and residents of the Amazon Rainforest. Begin by reading the book Along the Tapajós.

Activity 1: The rivers of the rainforest are huge and play a huge role in the ecology and lives of the communities that live in and around the forest. The Tapajós River—one of the largest tributaries of the Amazon—is certainly a river that is shaping development in Brazil. At 1,200 miles long, the Tapajós touches three Brazilian states (Mato Grasso, Para and Amazonas) and runs through 65 municipalities. The basin of this river is 193,000 square miles, which is about three times the size of Florida or roughly the size of France, and is home to rich and diverse habitats, with two-thirds rainforest and one-third Cerrado, or Savanna. There are 324 identified fish species, and the region ranks within the top 25 percent for global importance of rare land and water species.

There are also 1.4 million people living in the Tapajos River basin, including 10 indigenous tribes. All of these people rely on the river for food, water, energy and jobs. (source)

This area does not experience seasons like you find in the Northern Hemisphere. Instead, the rainforest has a dry and a flood season. The average annual precipitation is approximately 2,300 mm. The rainy season in the upper Tapajós Basin begins in late September, whereas in the lower Basin it begins in late December or January. The peak of the annual floods in the middle and upper Tapajós Basin is usually in March. Near the Tapajos River mouth, the highest water levels are normally in May or June. This is because water levels in the lower river are controlled by the Amazon River. (source)

In an effort to meet the increasing energy needs of developing Brazil, at least 158 dams have been built in the river to capitalize on hydroelectric power. (source) But how does a dam work? This video explains how a dam can be used to create energy.

Finally, let’s try making our own dam with this tutorial. (If you don’t have LEGO blocks, you can use modeling clay or recycled materials.) Upgrade the activity by encouraging your child to draw out their plan before building it, making predictions about how the dam will function.

Activity 2: While a hydroelectric power may seem like a clean energy solution, dams actually create a lot of problems for the people and animals who live along the rivers of the Amazon Rainforest. Not only can dams have a permanent impact on migrating spawning animals, like fish, but it also stops the natural spread of seeds and other plants and sediment because it halts seasonal flooding. Additionally, there is a major negative impact on the surrounding people and ecology to build the dams. As a result, many indigenous people of this area have been fighting to protect the land and their way of life. You can learn more about the efforts of 13 of these local communities on this webpage.

For this activity, discuss the pros and cons of dams in the Amazon. Do they think the risks outweigh the benefits? What are the long-term consequence of either action?

Activity 3: The Amazon Rainforest is home to an incredible diverse ecosystem of creatures. One of these amazing animals is the capybara, the largest rodent in the world. Let’s learn more about them in this video.

What makes a rodent a rodent? Rodents are all mammals that belong to the Order Rodentia, which has more than 2,000 different species of rodents and accounts for about 43 percent of all mammals worldwide. They’re all mammals with bodies covered with hair (not feathers or scales), they have tails, they give birth to living young (no eggs) and nurse those young. However, the main thing rodents have in common is the specialized structure of their teeth and jaws and their well- developed ability to gnaw. The word rodent comes from the Latin word “rodere,” which means to gnaw. Rodents have both upper and lower pairs of powerful, prominent front incisors separated by a gap from their molars. The incisors grow continuously. Rodents also have a more complex jaw musculature to enable all of that gnawing. Animals without this combination of features don’t belong in the order Rodentia. (source) You can see the three main types of rodents and learn more about them here.

Let’s summarize what we’ve learned in a lapbook! Your child can create a lapbook about the capybara specifically, or about rodents in general.

Activity 4: Speaking of rodents, let’s learn about the fascinating symbiotic relationship between a special rodent, a bee, and the Brazil nut. Start by watching this video to learn how they’re connected.

The agouti, the orchid (or euglossine) bee, and the Brazil nut all share a special relationship called symbiosis. Symbiosis is an example of an interspecific interaction in nature, or an interaction between two or more species. But there are many types of interactive relationships.

  • Symbiosis is a general term for species that live together in a long-term, intimate association. Mutualism is where both species benefit from the relationship, commensalism is where one species benefits and the other is neither helped nor harmed, and parasitism is where one species benefits and the other is harmed. (For an activity on symbiotic relationships, see our Level 2: Savanna + Safari Unit!)
  • In interspecific competition, members of two different species use the same limited resource and therefore compete for it. Competition negatively affects both participants, as either species would have higher survival and reproduction if the other was absent.
  • In predation, a member of one species (the predator) eats part or all of the living, or recently living, body of another organism (the prey). This interaction is beneficial for the predator, but harmful for the prey. Predation may involve two animal species, but it can also involve an animal, (such as a mammal, bird, or insect) consuming part of a plant. This is called herbivory. (source)

All of these relationships exist in the Amazon’s diverse ecosystem. Let’s illustrate the various forms of interspecific interactions with a printable. Start by printing this page of species. You will also need three different color of markers. Fill in the key on the sheet to designate one color for each type of interspecific interaction.

Next, start drawing lines to explain how each plant or animal is connected with the others. Start with the interactions your child is already familiar with (it may be easiest to start with which relationships you know are predatory). If you encounter an animal or plant you are not familiar with, do research onine to determine what that creature eats or is eaten by. As you learn more about what each lifeform needs, determine who would be a competitor or who it interacts mutually with.

After you have connected everything with at least one line, look at your web and discuss what you see!

Lesson 4:

Today, we’ll be learning more about one of the biggest events in Brazil—Carnival (or Carnaval in Portuguese)! Begin by reading the book Bisa’s Carnaval.

Activity 1: Brazilian Carnival is a wild celebration of food, alcohol, music and fun. It’s held annually for a few days before the start of Lent, the 40-day period of fasting, abstinence and repentance that’s observed by the Roman Catholic Church before Easter. The word carnival comes from the Latin carne vale, or “farewell to the flesh.”

The Portuguese brought the practice of Carnival to Brazil around 1850, patterning it mainly on the Parisian tradition of holding masquerade parties and balls at this time of the year. However, the Brazilians morphed it into a version uniquely their own over time, adding in elements from the people’s African and indigenous cultural backgrounds. Thus, Carnival in Brazil eventually incorporated lots of parades, elaborate costumes, music, dancing and balls. A tradition also developed where people dress up in opposing roles: men dress as women, aristocrats dress as commoners, the poor dress as the rich. (source)

This brief compilation video gives you a peek into some of the floats and performances you might see at Carnaval.

Carnaval is obviously not a secular celebration, but if that is not a concern for your family, you may wish to make some beautiful Carnaval masks of your own! You can use this tutorial.

If you prefer not to participate, this lesson can provide a great start to a conversation about traditions. Compare and contrast your family’s beliefs and traditions with those that we have learned about. What is the common ground? Where do you differ?

Activity 2: Did the music in the compilation video make you want to dance? You’re not alone! One of the highlights of Rio’s Carnaval is its elaborate parades, staged by major samba schools. The samba schools work year-round to prepare for their Carnival parade entry, and the immense Sambodromo (samba stadium) facility was built specifically to showcase the parades. (source)

A samba school is a dancing, marching, and drumming club. They practice and often perform in a huge square-compounds and are devoted to practicing and exhibiting samba, an Afro-Brazilian dance and drumming style. Although the word “school” is in the name, samba schools do not offer instruction in a formal setting. There are over 70 schools in the city dedicated to Samba, and all take part in the Carnival parades to compete for the title of Grand Champion at Carnaval. You can see more examples of the types of elaborate costumes and floats they create in this video.

Samba is a style of dance and music from Brazil. It developed from a complex mix of influences, including enslaved West Africans brought to Bahia, a region in Brazil, by Portuguese traders. The dance and drumming customs of these enslaved people eventually developed into samba. The word ‘samba’ is thought to possibly come from a West African word semba, meaning a navel thrust. Enslaved people retained the customs of their homelands, including a tradition of drumming and dancing, despite attempts by the Europeans to forbid such displays, which they considered vulgar. 

In the mid-19th century, Brazil abolished slavery and descendants of the slaves moved south to Rio de Janeiro. They settled in the favelas, or poorer neighborhoods on the hills surrounding the city. They continued dancing to percussive music and developed samba out of a mix of styles, including Brazilian maxixe, a dance similar to tango. (source)

Would you like to try some samba basics? This video lesson can get you started!
(-) Need something simpler? Start with this video made just for kids.

Want to see some truly amazing samba dancing? Watch this video to see couples compete in the 2013 World DanceSport Competition.

Activity 3: An instrument that has become almost synonymous with Carnaval and Brazilian culture is the maracas! Maracas, also known as rumba shakers, are a hand percussion instrument usually played in pairs and common in Caribbean, Latin American, and South American music. Maracas are a rattle instrument traditionally made of dried calabash gourds or turtle shells filled with beans, beads, or pebbles. Today maracas are made out of many different materials—you can find wood maracas, fiber maracas, rawhide maracas, and plastic maracas.

Rattles similar to maracas have existed for millennia in Africa, the Pacific Islands, and the Americas. The Araucanian people, who live in what is now central Chile, may have been the first to use the word maraca to describe a gourd rattle around 500 BC. Some historians, though, attribute the word’s origins to the Tupi people in pre-colonial Brazil. (source) Since then, maracas have increased in popularity and become an integral part in much Latin music.

Maracas are a percussion instrument, which means they make noise by being struck or shaken. Want to try playing them? Let’s make our own maracas using this tutorial. Next, watch this video lesson and play along with the instructor.

Lesson 5:

For our final day of Brazil activities, we’ll learn more about a sport that holds a special place in the hearts of most Brazilians—soccer (or football, as it is called in Brazil)! In fact, one of the most famous soccer players of all time came from Brazil. Let’s learn about him in the book Pele, King of Soccer.

Activity 1: Soccer, or football, has a worldwide history. More than 240 million people around the world play soccer regularly, according to the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA). The history of soccer dates back over 2,000 years ago, though it’s a little unclear when soccer was officially invented. The oldest known game involving a ball was played by the Aztecs. The Aztec soccer game was known as ‘Tchatali,’ where the aim was to get the ball through a stone hoop without using your hands. The ball game had deep religious and political ties, with the ball symbolizing the sun.

Another version of the game has also been documented as early as 206 B.C. during the Han Dynasty in China. This game was called ‘Cuju’ or ‘Tsu Chu’ and was played to keep the Chinese military in shape. The game used one set of bamboo goalposts erected in the middle of the field and a ball made from rubber and filled with fur or feathers. The aim was to get this ball through a small opening in the net, again without using the hands. Other versions of a similar game have also been seen in Ancient Greek and Indigenous Australian cultures. (source)

The English are credited with recording the first uniform rules for the sport, including forbidding tripping opponents and touching the ball with hands. As the sport developed, more rules were implemented and more historical landmarks were set. (source)

If you’ve never played soccer before (and even if you have!), there are also many exercises and drills that soccer players do to keep in shape for the sport. Let’s try a few drills designed to help improve balance (which is also an important gross motor skill for learning!) with these exercises.

Activity 2: Soccer also involves a lot of science—particularly physics! This video helps to break down the science behind an important part of the game: kicking a free kick.

The Magnus Effect, which creates the curve of a soccer ball, involves the physics principles of speed and velocity.

Speed is the rate of an object’s motion, while velocity designates an object’s speed plus the direction of its motion.

To calculate an object’s speed, one divides the distance it traveled by the amount of time it took (speed = distance/time).

The key difference between speed and velocity is the replacement of distance with displacement (velocity = displacement/time).

Displacement is the distance traveled in a particular direction, or the object’s change in position. (source) In order for an object to have velocity, every step must go farther away from its starting point. To describe an object’s velocity, you say the speed AND the direction (i.e. “30 miles per hour north”). (source)

Let’s demonstrate these concepts physically! First, have your child run from one side of the room to the other. Time how long it takes them to get to the ending spot. Next, measure how far they have run with a tape measure. To find their speed, divide the distance by the time it took to run. The answer is their speed! Finally, use a compass to determine the direction they are running. Now you also know their velocity—it’s their speed, due ____ (insert the direction).

Next, have them hop back and forth between two points as fast as they can for 20 seconds, having them end up back where they started. In this case, they might have built up a fast speed, but their velocity is 0 because they haven’t traveled any distance. (There is no displacement, or change of position.)

Activity 3: Finally, let’s use soccer to work on our phonogram this week! Begin by printing out these IE word cards on cardstock or other thicker paper and cutting them up. Next, set up a “goal” for your child—it could be a laundry basket, two cups to mark each end, or just an open doorway. Give them a soccer ball or other small ball that they can kick.

To play, place all the words face down on a table or the floor. After reviewing the phonogram, have them turn over one word at a time. If they read the word correctly, they get to take a “free kick” to try to get a goal! If they do not read the work correctly, have them turn the card back over to try again on another turn. Once they have read all the cards, have them total up the number of goals they make for their final score. (Then let them repeat as desired to get more reading practice and see if they can improve their goal score!) If you are learning with multiple children, have them take turns turning over word cards and kicking.

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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.