Grade Levels: K-3

This page provides information to support educators and families in teaching K-3 students about rainforests. It is designed to complement the Rainforests topic page on BrainPOP Jr.

This movie will explore rainforests, which are home to over half of the world’s plant and animal species. It will describe the different layers of the rainforest and explain how different plants, insects, and animals have special adaptations to survive in their environment. The movie will also explore how and why the rainforests are changing and how many plants and animals are becoming endangered or extinct.

Review with children that a rainforest is a thick, dense forest with a high annual rainfall. The minimum normal rainfall in the rainforest is around 78 inches per year, but many rainforests receive around 200 inches of rain in that time. Children should understand that many rainforests are in hot, humid areas, like in tropical areas near the Equator, but they also exist in cooler, temperate areas, such as in the Pacific Northwest of the United States. Tropical and temperate rainforests cover just 6% of our planet, but over half of the world’s plant and animal species live in them. Review with your children that a species is a scientific group of animals that share the same characteristics and have the same names. For example, howler monkeys are a species of monkey that live in tropical rainforests, but other species, such as spider monkeys and capuchin monkeys also live there.

The rainforest is divided into several different layers, and children should be able to identify the three main ones: canopy, understory, and forest floor. The canopy is the “roof” of the rainforest and is made up of the thick, leafy tops of tall trees. The canopy receives plenty of sunlight, and provides food and homes for many animals who use the canopy as shelter from predators on the forest floor. Some experts believe that the canopy could contain about half of all rainforest plant species and a quarter of its insect species. Other rainforest animals that live in the canopy include monkeys, birds, and sloths.

The understory is the layer between the canopy and the forest floor. The understory receives significantly less light than the canopy, which provides shade for the area beneath. Many plants that grow in the understory have large leaves in order to absorb as much sunlight as possible. Seedlings also grow in the understory; they are protected from direct sunlight by larger trees. Animals such as butterflies, lizards, tree boas, and even jaguars can be found in the understory. The understory is the area many animals travel through to get to the canopy or the forest floor.

The forest floor is the bottom of the forest and it receives the least amount of light. As a result, few plants are able to grow there and the floor is relatively clear. It is important for your children to understand that soils in many rainforests tend to be infertile. However, the rainforest floor is a crucial part of the ecosystem. The hot, humid conditions and the presence of many fungi and microorganisms allows dead plants and animals on the forest floor to be scavenged or to decompose quickly, thereby recycling essential nutrients. Many children believe that jungles and rainforests are similar. Jungles grow when the canopy breaks down and more light can reach the forest floor, allowing plants to grow densely. Rainforest floors tend to be relatively clear of plants. Many animals such as snakes, insects, elephants, and tapirs make their homes on the rainforest floor.

The rainforest is home to millions of living things and they all have special adaptations to survive in their habitat. Many rainforest plants have smooth, waxy leaves with special tips to help them easily drain excess water. Since rainforest soil tends to be infertile, some plants, such as pitcher plants, feed on animals. Plants like bromeliads can grow on the sides of tall trees to reach more sunlight. Such plants are often called “air plants” because they grow high in the branches. Many trees have special roots which give them extra support in shallow, wet ground. Plants have adapted to have bright colors, large flowers, or fruit to attract animals and spread their pollen or seeds. The torch ginger plant grows up to four feet high, with large flowers of brilliant red, white, and yellow. The pelican flower has purple spotted petals and can grow up to two feet in width.

Rainforest animals also have special adaptations to compete and survive. Many use camouflage to blend into their surroundings. Clearwing butterflies have transparent wings so they can disappear in the rainforest. Sloths move so slowly that algae grows in their fur and they can hide in the rainforest canopy, and provide a home for tiny animals that live in their fur. Leopards, ocelots, and jaguars have spots or dark coloring to help them disappear within the rainforest shadows. Some animals wish to be seen, such as the poison dart frog, whose bright skin warns predators. Poison dart frogs, which can be many bright colors, including teal, red, or neon yellow, are some of the most poisonous animals on the planet. Many indigenous people have used their poison for their weapons. Other animals have more unique adaptations, such as the hoatzin, which is a bird that emits a strong, foul odor that keeps predators away.

Rainforests are often called the “lungs” of the Earth because they emit oxygen into the air and take in carbon dioxide, a gas that contributes to global climate change. Rainforests also help regulate Earth’s temperature and weather patterns: The moisture released by the rainforest’s dense plant life forms clouds overhead, which then are blown to other areas to release cooling water and shade. Many foods and spices we eat today come from the rainforest, including coffee, ginger, coconut, vanilla, ginger, and cacao, which is used to make chocolate. Furthermore, many modern medicines, particularly those that treat cancer, have come from rainforest plants.

Unfortunately, the world’s rainforests are being felled and cleared for land and timber. Some experts estimate that each year about 50 million acres of rainforests are cut down, which is approximately the size of the United Kingdom. Because of its diversity, experts believe that over one hundred species become extinct a day due to deforestation. Remind your children that when a living thing becomes extinct, none of its kind if left in the world. When a living thing becomes endangered, only a few members of its species are left. Many of the plants and animals in rainforests have become endangered and millions more are at risk. Fewer rainforests mean less cloud-cover, which results in an increased temperature for the Earth. Furthermore, indigenous people who rely on the rainforest have been displaced and they are forced to change their way of life.

Children should understand that people impact the environment and that their actions can affect other living things around them. Empowering children with information about the environment can help them understand how all living things are connected and allow them to make better choices in their daily lives.

Filed as:  Habitats, K-3, Rainforests, Science