Trees + Rainforest Unit

Many of our units have touched on a variety of trees, but this week, trees are the star. Throughout this unit, we’ll explore a variety of forests, types of trees, and animal life that relies on them. We’ll also take a deep dive into the four layers of a rainforest, building a diorama as we go to bring each layer to life for your child. Ready to see the forest for the trees? 🌳 Click here to print our tracking document for your records, and then let’s make like a tree and get growing! (Sorry, we couldn’t help ourselves!)

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):

Optional chapter book: 

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!

Lesson 1:

We have learned a lot about trees this year! In our Japan Unit we learned about the cherry tree and bonsai tree. The Fall Harvest Unit taught us about the pine cones that make the mighty pine tree. The Apples Unit encouraged us to visit an orchard, where we saw all the fruit that comes from the apple trees. When we worked on the Canada + Maple Syrup Unit, we learned about the sweet maple tree. And we just discussed the baobab tree in our Savanna + Safari Unit. But there is so much more to learn!  There are over 60,000 different types of trees in the world (source). Some trees live for thousands of years. There are four main parts to a tree: the roots, the trunk, the branches and leaves (source). Let’s dig a little deeper into trees today by reading the book The Things I Love about Trees.

Activity 1: You can often identify a tree by its leaves. Using this chart, can you find out what trees grow near you? Go on a nature walk and collect some leaf samples from your local trees. Add the leaves and your observations to your nature journal.

Activity 2:  While you’re outside, use these illustrations as a teaching tool for this next activity. One of the most important parts of any forest are the trees. Review the life cycle of the tree with the printables. Print out pages 6, 8, 25-28. (You might want to refer to pages 14-18 for facts about the oak tree if you want a little refresher on tree facts.) As you take your walk, collect any seeds you might find on the ground, look for small saplings and large trees, and bring this life cycle illustration to life with these living examples. You can also use this outing and these pictures to label the parts of the trees: seeds, leaves, twigs, branches, trunks, and roots. If you use a nature journal, draw what you find in it and then label your pictures.

Activity 3: One of the fabulous facts about trees is that for each year of a tree’s life, it produces a new layer. When you examine a cut tree, you can actually see and count the layers that are called rings. This tree ring activity will make this concept more concrete. 
(+) Want to learn more about the different layers of a tree? Check out this link for a detailed explanation and illustration of the parts of a tree trunk.

Activity 4: Let’s build a tree using one of the below links. Remember to also practice the /t/ sound if you are working on phonetic awareness.
(-) Letter T activity 
(+) If you have train tracks at home, try this cool activity to create a tree.

Lesson 2:

Rainforests can be found around the equator in South America, Africa, and Southeast Asia. Introduce the book Rainforest to your child. Show your child all the different places rainforests exist and all the living things that make up the rainforest. Make connections to some of the animals and plants we have learned about in previous lessons, like the toucan, the rafflesia flower, butterflies, and rhinos.

Activity 1: Read the story Over and Under the Rainforest. The rainforest in this story is in Central America. Find this area on Google Earth, a globe, a map, or an atlas. Let’s learn more about the rainforest watching this video.

As you discuss the video with your child, reinforce that there are four layers to the rainforest. They are called forest floor, the understory, the canopy, and the emergent layer. (source) Let’s make it all come alive with a diorama of the rainforest. We will build it a layer at a time, so we need a long cardboard box that can be divided into layers just like the rainforest. (Refer to the image above for an idea of how your diorama can look when you’re done.) As we learn about each layer, we will build it into our diorama. Then we will add other living things to the layer, such as plants and animals. If you don’t want to use scrap cardboard to separate your layers, create each of the bottom three layers inside a shoebox and then stack them.)

To begin, decorate the background of your diorama with green construction paper. Extend the floor of the box as shown in the photo and layer it with brown felt and blue tissue paper to represent the river. Using the book Over and Under as your guide, discuss the forest floor before moving on to the next activity. You can also explore this interactive website to see more about some of the animals that live there.

Activity 2: Next, we will build the understory layer in our diorama. Using toilet paper rolls, add the trunks of trees to your understory layer. Use pipe cleaners as vines and wrap them around the trees. Finally, add shrubs made out of tissue paper.

Activity 3: Termites are the garbage eaters or decomposers of the rainforest. (Help your child connect this term with other decomposers they have learned about this year, like the earthworm and the vulture.) Termites help the rainforest ecosystem by eating the dying trees off the forest floor. They also make these amazing architectural structures to live in that we call mounds. In the rainforests, termites build these mounds on a tree. Here’s a video that shows the mound. (You’ll have to read the subtitles because it’s in Spanish.)  Here are a few more facts to share with your child:

  • Termites are among the oldest insects. They are related to cockroaches and have been on the earth for over 200 million years.
  • Most termite species live in hot, wet climates, such as rainforests and jungles. There, they make a tasty snack for lizards, anteaters, and other small animals.
  • Termites build big colonies. Each colony can have millions of members!
  • Termite colonies have a king and queen. The queen lays millions of eggs during her life. (source)

Now let’s add a termite mound to our diorama. Mold one out of brown playdough using the image in the video as your guide and attach it to one of your toilet paper roll trees.

Activity 4: Let’s learn a special type of plant—a carnivorous plant! In addition to making their own food through photosynthesis like all other plants, a carnivorous plant also gains nutrients from eating living things, like insects and spiders. An example of this is the pitcher plant, which lives in the rainforest. It looks like a narrow, long bowl, and it’s sides are very slippery. When bugs fall in, they can’t get out. There are enzymes in the bowl of the plant that break down the insect’s body so that the plant can absorb its nutrients. Watch this video and look at this picture to see how they look and eat. Now, let’s make some mini pitcher plants out of yellow, brown, and green playdough and add them to our diorama.

Activity 5: Fungus plays a very important part in the rainforest. Watch this video and read the book The Mushroom Fan Club to learn about this special living thing that isn’t a plant or an animal. Now, using playdough, make a few little mushrooms and add them to your forest floor.

Lesson 3:

Ready for more rainforest? Let’s start by reading The Umbrella to learn about the Rainforest of Costa Rica. This beautiful website shares pictures and brief facts about the people, animals, and plants of the Amazon Rainforest.

Activity 1: Learn more about the next two layers of the rainforest on this website again. Click on the canopy layer to see what lives there. Now, let’s build this next layer. Use paper towel rolls for the canopy layer, add more pipe cleaner vines, and add tissue paper as leaves. You may also want to string some pipe cleaner vines between your trees in this layer.

Activity 2: Let’s meet another animal that lives in the rainforest—the bat. Watch this video and then do this craft next. If you have tissue paper, you can also use that instead of coloring the coffee filters. (Note: The blogger has you creating colorful bats, which you can do, or your can opt to make the bats more realistic in color. We also recommend using a mini clothespin to make a smaller version of this bat that will fit into the diomara better. 

Activity 3: Next let’s meet the sloth. Watch this video and then do this sloth craft to add to the canopy layer your diorama.

Activity 4: Rainforests get over 80 inches (2 m) of rain each year. This is about 1 1/2 inches (3.8 cm) of rain each week. (source) Ask your child to make a prediction about your own weather: Will it rain as much as it does in the rainforest? Will it rain more? Then, use this rain gauge activity to record your rainfall. After a week, compare what your gauge collected to what the rainforest typically gets in a week.

Lesson 4:

Let’s learn about the emergent layer of the rainforest here. Today, we’ll build our final layer of our diomara on the top of the box. Add the tops of the trees with toilet paper rolls and tissue paper. Then we’ll meet some of the animals that live in the emergent layer—macaws and spider monkeys.

Activity 1: Let’s watch this video of the macaw parrot and learn a little about them here. Next, let’s add this macaw craft to add to the emergent layer of our diorama.

Activity 2: Our last animal for the week is the clever spider monkey. Watch this video, and then cut out this printout to add to your diorama.

Activity 3: Print out these Montessori-inspired animal cards and use them in any of these variety of ways: 

  • Say the animals name and practice first letter sounds
  • Practice reading and writing these animal words. 
  • Place the cards in your diorama in the correct rainforest layer.
  • If you have figurines or stuffed animals for these animals, match them to the cards.
  • Ask Alexa or a Google Dot to tell you the animal sounds for each of these animals.
Lesson 5:

It’s Art + Music Day!

Activity 1: Build a rainforest terrarium.

Activity 2: Rainforests aren’t the only kind of forests in the world. There are also temperate forests that can be found in places that have seasons. Here’s a picture called Forest by a French artist named Paul Cezanne.  He enjoyed painting nature but also changing it. Sometimes he changed the color or the shape of the objects he painted. When you look at his Forest picture, what do you notice about it? What color is the grass? Is it usually blue or purple? Do the branches look like fingers to you? Want to see more paintings by Cezanne? Click here for his collection.

Activity 3: Begin my listening to the sounds of the rainforest. What do you hear? (If your child has a hard time deciphering specific sounds, call out the raindrops, birds, and other noises for them.)

Activity 4: Do the sounds of the rainforest remind you of musical instruments? For many, the sounds of nature often sound like an orchestra of their own! Today, we’ll learn a little bit about the different types of instruments that exist in an orchestra. Generally, there are four primary instrument family types: woodwind, brass, percussion, and strings. Within each family, you can find a wide array of different instruments that make different sounds. Watch this video to hear some of those sounds in an orchestra.

Note: The video is a little long, so if your child’s attention span is waning, here is where you can hear the different families:

  • 0:06 – 0:27 – Full Orchestra
  • 0:27 – 0:50 – Woodwinds (flute, piccolo, oboe, clarinet and bassoon)
  • 0:50 – 1:10 – Brass (French horn, trumpet, trombone and tuba)
  • 1:10 – 1:27 – Strings (violin, viola, cello, double bass and harp)
  • 1:27 – 1:43 – Percussion (a bunch of drums and other instruments)
  • 1:43 – 2:01 – Full Orchestra (again)

As you listen, compare and contrast the different sounds. Ask your child to compare the sounds of the instruments to sounds they might find in the rainforest. Do the woodwinds sound like birds calling? Does the brass remind them of a clap of thunder? What instrument do they think could make a howler monkey sound? Encourage them to imagine a full rain storm in the music!

Next, create your own percussion section using items from your kitchen! Try different pots and pans for drums, pot lids for symbals, glasses of water with a spoon for a xylophone…whatever you have can work!
(+) Want more? The Oregon Symphony has a fun series of videos for children to introduce them to different types of instruments. You can watch it for free here!

Optional family movie night: The Jungle Book

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