Learn About Rainforests
At Rainforest Foundation US, we take saving rainforests seriously. We work with communities that live in the rainforest to protect their homes. These communities are called “indigenous peoples.” They and their grandparents and their great grandparents have been living in the rainforest for as long as they can remember and know best how to take care of it.
Rainforest Foundation US works closely with communities in the Amazon rainforest, the world’s biggest rainforest located in South America. Follow along the slideshows below to learn more about the peoples, animals, and plants that live in the Amazon.
What is it like to live in a rainforest? It depends on where you live. For example, the Yanomami people in Brazil often live in large, communal houses, while the Embera people prefer living in small houses built up on stilts to protect themselves from flooding rivers.
In the rainforest, kids learn from their parents and grandparents about how to live in the forest and take care of it. In addition, kids sometimes have to travel great distances to study at schools far away from their parents because there are none nearby. Other villages might have a one-room school where all of the community’s children are able to study together.
Read on to find out more about what it’s like to grow up in a rainforest.
The Achuar people live in the Amazon rainforest along the border between Ecuador and Peru. The many rivers and lakes in this region often run right through or sit next to their communities. Achuar kids get around using hand-carved canoes made from nearby trees. Canoes are the easiest way to move through the rainforest because there are so many rivers and streams. In other places, like Guyana, there’s even a “school canoe” to go to class!
In Ecuador, like in many other areas of the rainforest, dancing is a very important part of life and performed for fun and for traditional ceremonies. Everyone in the villages can participate in the dances. Sometimes, even the entire village dances together! When they dance, the men and women wear traditional dresses, masks, or headdresses made of products from the rainforest like seeds, leaves, or feathers. It takes a long time to create them by hand, and the adornments can change from dance to dance.
In a city park you can see bees, ants, ladybugs, butterflies, and animals like dogs and cats. In the rainforest, there are thousands of different kinds of bugs, some of which are bigger than anything you see in your local park! In some places, kids see parrots and monkeys every day. Through stories, songs, and folk tales told by their elders, kids learn the names of the plants and animals that live in the rainforest with them.
Getting food in the rainforest is very different from going to a regular supermarket because the rainforest is the supermarket! The people living there, like the Aiapi people of French Guiana and Brazil, cultivate plants like cassava, sweet potatoes, yams, bananas, plantains, sugarcane, mangoes, papayas, and manioc or corn. Kids go with their parents to the rainforest to gather nuts and fruits, and also look for frogs and caterpillars that can be fire-roasted!
Do you like to paint your face for Halloween, at a carnival, or to cheer on your favorite sports team? In the rainforest, kids and adults also paint their faces with patterns. The paint can come from plants, flowers, or charcoal. Wet charcoal is used to make black marks, while the seeds of the spiny achiote fruit are crushed for bright red-orange marks. With these colors, they paint their faces and bodies and dye their clothes and hair. Some of the paints also act as insect repellent!
Kids who live in rainforests don’t need to go to parks because the park is all around them! Kids growing up in the rainforest - like the Wounaan of Panama - climb trees, run through the rainforest, hang from vines, jump from cliffs into rivers or streams, ride in their canoes, and swim with turtles near waterfalls!
The Amazon rainforest is home to thousands of kinds of insects, birds, mammals, and freshwater fish, many of which have yet to be discovered. Indigenous peoples have an intimate knowledge of the animals that they share the rainforest with and they also have a deep respect for the role each one plays in maintaining the health of the natural environment. Read on to find out more about the spectacular animals that live in the Amazon.
These small gray primates have reddish tales and a characteristic white mustache. Emperor tamarins are omnivorous, which means they eat both plants and animals, including fruit, nectar, leaves, and also insects. They usually live in family groups of 2 to 8, but may live in larger groups that include other types of tamarin monkeys. Male emperor tamarins are very involved in caring for infants, which they carry for the first 6 or 7 weeks of infancy. Emperor tamarins generally live between 10 and 20 years.
Scarlet macaws are large parrots that live throughout Central and South America. They have bright red, yellow, and blue feathers, and call loudly to each other. Scarlet macaws have large, flexible beaks that are capable of breaking into unripe nuts and fruits. They also eat seeds, leaves, insects, and occasionally clay (which is good for their digestion)! Due to habitat loss, only a few thousand scarlet macaws remain in Mexico and Central America. Macaws are also illegally captured in the wild to be sold as pets. They can live as long as 50 years in the wild.
The Amazon river dolphin - also called the “pink dolphin” - is the largest of all 6 kinds of river dolphins found across the world. Amazon river dolphins can grow to more than 8 feet (2.4 meters) long and weigh 350 pounds (160 kg). Their colors range from dark gray to grayish-pink to bright pink. Like all freshwater river dolphins, they have small eyes and rely on excellent sonar to navigate muddy rivers. They eat fish and crabs or other crustaceans found on river bottoms. River dolphins are curious and usually friendly towards humans!
Also called “poison arrow frogs,” poison dart frogs were so named because some indigenous peoples rub their arrows on the frogs’ poisonous skin in order to stun their prey. Found across Central and South America, these frogs have brightly colored skin which acts as a warning to predators. Though small, they produce a variety of sounds, and different kinds of poison frogs can be distinguished by their calls. Poison frogs mainly eat small insects, such as ants and termites, which they capture with their long, sticky tongues. Poison frogs probably gain their poison from eating specific insects who have acquired the poison from the plants they eat. When fed a specific diet in captivity, poison frogs lose their toxicity.
Jaguars, also called “tigre americano,” are the largest cat native to the Americas. They once roamed across Central and South America, but now are mostly found in the Amazon rainforest and other remote areas. Jaguars usually live in swamps and wooded areas, but you can also spot them in scrublands and deserts. Jaguars range in color from white to brown to black, but they all have characteristic black spots. They can grow to 9 feet (2.7 meters) in length and 2.6 feet (0.8 meter) tall. Adults can weigh between 220 to 350 pounds (100 to 160 kg).
Scientists estimate that the Amazon rainforest is home to 50,000 different kinds of plants, making it one of the most biodiverse ecosystems on the planet! These range from small trees and vines, to giant lily pads and vibrant flowers. The indigenous peoples who live in the rainforest rely on plants for food, medicines and other daily uses. Read on to find out more about the Amazon’s amazing plant life.
Have you ever eaten passion fruit or drank passion fruit juice? Did you know that passion fruit grows on plants that also produce beautiful flowers? There are more than 500 types of passionflower that grow in the rainforests of Central and South America. Most passionflowers are vines (although some are trees or bushes) that grow striking flowers that provide food for butterflies. Some types of passionflower grow fruit as small as berries or as large as gourds.
Did you know that chocolate originally comes from rainforests in South America, like the Amazon? Chocolate is made from cacao beans, which are the seeds of the cacao tree. There are many types of cacao tree, some of which grow small flowers directly from their trunks and branches. Cacao trees produce fruits that are shaped like long pods, ranging in color from yellow to purple. Each pod contains 20 to 60 cacao beans. The ripe beans are fermented, dried, then roasted and processed into cocoa powder, cocoa butter, and chocolate.
There are more than 3,000 kinds of bromeliads, all of which are evergreens with spiraling leaves. Most bromeliads are epiphytes, meaning they grow on the surface of other plants, like trees or cacti. Some Bromeliads grow flowers that later develop into fruit, the most recognizable of which is the pineapple! The largest known bromeliad can grow to more than 10 meters (33 feet) tall and is currently in danger of extinction. At least three kinds of bromeliads are carnivorous - they trap and digest insects!
Have you ever seen a variety of orchids in your local supermarket, garden store, or at a friend’s house? There are more than 25,000 kinds of orchids that originally come from rainforests across the world! These stunning flowering plants may grow out of the soil or on top of other plants. Some varieties grow as vines, while others are shrubs. Orchid flowers vary in size from very small to more than 38 cm (15 inches) across. Their size and shape are often adapted to different pollinators.
There are around 200 varieties of heliconia, with flowers that range in color from red, orange, yellow, to green. Heliconia are usually pollinated by hummingbirds, and grow blue or purple fruit. One variety, called “hanging lobster claw,” is so named because of the shape of its flowers. With stunning hot pink, yellow, and green petals, hanging lobster claw is the national flower of Bolivia.
Games, Activities, and Learning Materials
Kids, parents, and teachers: feel free to download and share the following resources. Don’t forget to print on the front and back of each page and use recycled paper whenever you can.
Rainforests Around the World are Disappearing
The Amazon rainforest and other rainforests around the world are being cut down in order to harvest their wood to build buildings or furniture, to clear land for new farms or dig for gold. But destroying rainforests has a major impact on the people, plants, and animals that live there. It also affects those of us who live far away from rainforests; tropical rainforests clean the air we breathe, regulate the rainfall that feeds our farms, and provide medicines that keep us healthy.
How Kids Can Save Rainforests
Even if you live far from a rainforest or have never visited one, there are still a number of things kids can do to save tropical rainforests. You can share what you’ve learned with friends and family, say “no” to products that harm rainforests, or fundraise for organizations like Rainforest Foundation US that work on the ground to protect rainforests.
You’re never too young to be a hero for the rainforest. The smallest efforts count, and the smallest people can make a huge difference. Read on to find out ways to help.
Spread the Word
Now that you know how important rainforests are and the threats they face, you can share what you’ve learned with friends and family. Check out the ideas below, or get creative with your own.
Reduce Your Use of Rainforest Products
You can save rainforests by reducing your use of products that are grown on cleared rainforest lands – beef, soy, and palm oil are the products that contribute most to deforestation.
Raise Funds for Rainforests
To raise funds, you can organize a sponsored talent show, run, walk, swim, bike ride, hop, three-legged race, dance, or any other activity you enjoy! You can also hold bake sales or open a lemonade stand.
If you would like to raise funds for Rainforest Foundation US, follow these easy steps: