Rainforests: An Activity Guide for Ages 6-9by Nancy F. Castaldo
North America boasts a surprising number of rainforests, including El Yunque National Forest in Puerto Rico, Olympic National Forest in Washington State, Chugah and Tonga National Forests in Alaska, and the forests in Hawaii, which are home to an enormous variety of plants and animals. Rainforests: An Activity Guide takes kids through the common layers of the rainforest, from the forest floor to above the enclosed canopy. Their journey continues through the different types of rainforests as they are introduced to plants, animals, and people around the world, including those from the temperate rainforests of North America to the tropical rainforests of Southeast Asia, Africa, and South America. Rainforest-inspired activities include making a West African yam festival gourd rattle, building a model of an Alaskan totem pole, and creating a Javanese Wayang-kuilt, or shadow puppet. Kids are encouraged to make a difference and become active supporters of the rainforests no matter where they live.
Author Biography: Nancy F. Castaldo is the author of Oceans: An Activity Guide for Ages 6-9, Winter Day Play!, a Smithsonian Notable Book, Rainy Day Play!, an American Bookseller's Pick, and The Little Hands Nature Book.
Anita Barnes Lowen
- San Val
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 9.72(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.58(d)
- Age Range:
- 6 - 9 Years
Read an Excerpt
An Activity Guide for Ages 6â"9
By Nancy F. Castaldo
Chicago Review Press IncorporatedCopyright © 2003 Nancy F. Castaldo
All rights reserved.
THE FOREST FLOOR
Have you ever taken a hike in the woods? Think about what you see and hear there. The ground under your feet might be rocky or covered with leaves. Sunlight might be streaming down through the leaves of the trees to the ground at your feet. You may find deciduous trees, which lose their leaves in the fall, and evergreen trees, which stay green all through the winter. You could wrap your arms around most of the tree trunks you see. It might be quiet on your hike or you might hear a bird or two. Now imagine you have traveled to a rainforest. The word rainforest was created in 1903 to describe forests that grow in constantly wet conditions. In rainforests the rainfall is more than 80 inches (2 m) a year.
You would find many differences between a rainforest and other forests that grow in drier or more temperate conditions. Rainforests are made up of many more layers than the temperate forests that might be near your home. The first layer of the rainforest is called the forest floor, and it's the first layer that we'll explore. As you step into this layer, the first thing you might notice is the darkness. You will probably also find that it's very humid. There are very few plants in this layer of the rainforest because only a small amount of sunlight is able to filter down through the upper layers. Soon, however, you will see that the forest floor is actually teeming with life. Let's find out about the creatures and plants that call this dark and humid layer home.
Almost everything that dies in the rainforest ends up on the forest floor. The fallen leaves and dead animals that end up there become food for an abundance of insects, bacteria, and fungi that help to decompose, or break down, these things into soil. Together with the humidity of the forest they make the forest floor an efficient decomposing machine. In fact, an ordinary leaf that would take up to a year to decompose on the floor of a temperate forest near your home could completely decompose and disappear on the floor of a tropical rainforest within six weeks.
Give Me the Dirt
All that is decomposed gives life to other organisms. It becomes soil that provides nutrients for plant life. It becomes food for critters such as worms. How do you think the dirt in your neighborhood is made? It also comes from decomposing plant and animal matter. The decomposition just happens a lot slower than in the rainforest. You can see the process in action by creating your own container for compost or decomposing material.
What You Need
* A grown-up to assist
* Garbage pail (either plastic or metal)
* Soil or peat moss
* Grass clippings
* Shredded newspapers
What You Do
1. Ask a grown-up to drill many large holes all around the pail. This will allow air to get into the compost. The bacteria and fungi that will be working to break down the matter into soil need the oxygen from the air just as we do.
2. Place a layer of soil or peat moss in the bottom of the pail. Sprinkle with water.
3. Next, add a layer of grass clippings or shredded newspaper. Water. Repeat the layers until you have filled the container at least halfway.
4. Stir the contents of the pail about every two weeks. Add enough water periodically so that the layers do not dry out. Keeping the layers moist will make the container like the forest floor. It will also keep the container from becoming too smelly. After about a month or two you will have some dark, rich soil to add to your garden.
The Worms Go In and the Worms Go Out
Worms, worms, worms. It seems like worms are everywhere, doesn't it? They really are. Earthworms, the worms that we're most familiar with, belong to a group of worms known as segmented worms. There are over 9,000 species of segmented worms in the world, and that is only a fraction of all the worms that are in the world. You probably see the most worms after a rain has drawn them out of the soil. They slither along on driveways and roadways, in puddles and on sidewalks. More worms are in the soil, out of view. There can actually be millions of worms living in your backyard.
Many of the worms in the rainforest do the same thing that the earthworms do in your backyard. They ingest, or take in, dirt as they move through the soil and excrete, or eliminate, it after it's finely ground in their gizzard and lime from their stomachs is added to it. If you want to find worms at work, use a stick to poke around moist areas of decaying leaves in the evening. You might catch a worm pulling the leaves into its burrow. The leaves, flowers, and other plant matter that it pulls into its burrow help enrich the soil as these items decay.
Have you ever eaten a mushroom? Mushrooms are a type of fungus. Fungi are the mega-decomposers of the forest floor. Many mushrooms in the rainforest grow on top of rotting leaves, but there are also other types of fungus that grow in threads among and below them. These threads become like a strong web that feeds on the plant tissue. The threads release a substance that can break down tough plant material. Many fungi live most of their lives underground except for occasionally flowering and fruiting aboveground. Fungi flowers don't look like what you might picture. They are odd-shaped, and most smell awful.
Not all fungi are decomposers. Some of them actually form a mat around the roots of plants that is helpful to the plant. Instead of the fungus killing the plant, the fungus obtains nitrogen and sugars from the plant roots, while the plant absorbs minerals from the fungus. This relationship is called symbiosis, which means that both the fungus and the plant benefit from the relationship.
Make a Fern Print T-Shirt
Few plants are able to live on the dark forest floor, and the ones that can are adapted to live in these low-light, humid conditions. Among these few species that can survive among the tree roots, fungi, and decaying matter on the forest floor are ferns and ginger. There are over 12,000 species of ferns in the world, many of which grow in tropical rainforests. Native people of the rainforests often use the beautiful leaves, or fronds, of ferns to adorn themselves, adding them to a headdress or wearing them around the neck, as they do in parts of Australia. Here's a way that you can also adorn yourself with ferns.
What You Need
* 1 white T-shirt
* Ferns (available at a local florist)
* Green fabric paint (available at craft supply stores)
* Paper plate
What You Do
1. Wash and dry the T-shirt without using any fabric softener. (Fabric softener hinders the paint from adhering to the fabric.)
2. Place a sheet of cardboard inside the shirt so that the paint does not seep through to the back of the shirt.
3. Place your fern plant on a sheet of newspaper. Tear off one large fern frond close to the dirt. You'll use this to create the fern image on the shirt.
4. Squirt some of the fabric paint onto the paper plate. Paint the fabric paint on the fern. Make sure you have an even coverage of paint on the fern.
5. Lift the fern carefully and turn the painted side down, facing the T-shirt. Carefully lay the fern on the T-shirt and gently press so that all the paint transfers to the fabric.
6. Slowly lift your fern from the T-shirt. Continue creating your fern design by using different sizes of fern fronds on your shirt or reapplying paint to the same fern frond. Allow the paint to completely dry before you remove the cardboard. Voilà — you have your own designer fern T-shirt.
Cook Up Some Fiddleheads
Ferns are not only appreciated for their beauty. They have a variety of important uses. Some ferns are just ornamental, while others are used as food and medicine. Many species of fern found inside and outside of the rainforest can be boiled and eaten. Larger, more substantial fern fronds from the tree ferns of Australia and New Guinea have even been used as splints for people who have a broken limb, and as small fences. You might be able to find the small, curled-up fronds of the ferns called fiddleheads in your grocery store's produce section. These are edible. They are usually available during the spring months.
Here's an easy recipe for fiddleheads that you can try at home.
4 appetizer or side dish servings
What You Need
* 2 cups (473 ml) fresh fiddleheads
* Medium-sized pot filled with water
* Wire whisk
* 1 egg
* 2 bowls
* 1 cup (190 g) flour
* 2 tablespoons (29 g) butter
* Medium-sized sauté pan
* Salt to taste
* A grown-up to assist
What You Do
1. Place the fiddleheads in the pot filled with water. Heat until boiling, then lower the heat and continue to cook the fiddleheads until they are tender (about 5 minutes). When they seem tender, remove the pot from the stove and drain the water from the fiddleheads.
2. Use the wire whisk to beat the egg in one of the bowls until it is frothy. Pour the flour into the other bowl.
3. Place the butter in the sauté pan and heat on medium heat.
4. Dip each tender fiddlehead into the egg, followed by the flour, and then place it in the sauté pan.
5. Ask a grown-up to turn the fiddleheads as they begin to brown. Once brown, they can be removed from the pan. Add salt to taste and enjoy.
Worms are not the only rainforest inhabitants that make their home on the forest floor. There are beetles, cockroaches, scorpions, and spiders, among others. And these bugs aren't your average garden-variety bugs. The many-legged, wormlike millipedes that you might find in your own garden grow to about an inch long, but in the rainforest their relatives are the largest in the world, growing up to a foot (30 cm) long. The tiny centipedes that you might find living under a log are flatter than millipedes and have one pair of legs for each body segment, unlike millipedes, which have two pairs of legs per segment. In the rainforest carnivorous centipedes grow up to six inches (15 cm) long, and they feed on small animals and other insects using a pair of poisonous claws to catch their prey.
Most scorpions prefer hot, dry deserts, but not all. The Philippine scorpion prefers the humid rainforest floor. It spends its days in burrows and comes out at night to feed on insects.
The largest spider in the world lives in the rainforests of South America. This is the tarantula. The bird-eating spider living in South America, Thera-phosa blondi, is a member of the tarantula family. This spider would surely frighten Little Miss Muffet, for this is no eensy-weensy spider! Its large 3½-inch (9 cm) body is surrounded by eight 10-inch (25 cm) legs, which makes it the largest spider in the world. Use a ruler to imagine how large the spider actually is. Tarantulas spin a strand of silk to act as a trip wire to alert them to their prey. Once something has tripped the line of silk, the tarantula leaps out, bites its victim, and swallows it whole.
You can visit your local pet store to see live tarantulas. The ones that you will see in the pet shop are a bit smaller than the Theraphosa blondi, but still a lot larger than your average house spiders.
Spy on a Spider
Many species of spiders live in rainforests. Some are even the same as the ones that live in your area. Spiders are not insects. Insects have six legs, while spiders have eight. Spiders have only two major body segments — the head and the thorax are one segment, and the abdomen is the other. Insects have three separate segments — head, thorax, and abdomen. The last thing that separates spiders from insects is that spiders do not have antennae.
Use this activity to take a closer look at the spiders that inhabit your part of the country.
What You Need
* Clear glass jar
* Some sticks
* A piece of a stocking that will fit over the top of the jar
* Rubber band
* Magnifying glass
What You Do
1. Start by searching out some spiders and spiderwebs. Look in the corners of your house and in your garden.
2. When you locate a spiderweb, examine it. There are many different types of webs, but the most common one that you will find is an orb (circular) web.
3. After you have examined the spiderweb, see if you can locate the spider. Knock it gently into your jar using a stick. Never touch the spider with your hands. As soon as the spider is inside the jar, add a few sticks to the jar and cover the jar opening with the piece of stocking. Secure it with a rubber band.
4. Look at your spider. Count its legs. Does it have eight? Spiders have eight eyes. Use the magnifying glass against the jar to see if you can see the spider's eyes. Spend some time watching your spider. It might try to spin a web around the sticks in the jar. Don't keep your spider in the jar for longer than one day because it will need food and water.
5. After completing your examinations, return the spider to the place you found it.
The Anansi tales began with the Ashanti people of the rainforest country of Ghana, on the west coast of Africa. Anansi means "spider" in the Ashanti language. The Anansi, or spider, in the tales is sometimes wise, other times foolish, often amusing, and at times lazy. In any case, Anansi always teaches a lesson. The Anansi tales traveled with Africans to the Caribbean islands and the United States, where they are still told. Here's a version of the tale of how Anansi acquired all of the stories from Nyame, the sky god.
In the beginning, all the tales in Africa and beyond belonged to the Sky God, Nyame. Kwaku Anansi, the spider, wanted more than anything to own these tales himself. And so Anansi wove a web, climbed up to Nyame, and offered to buy the tales. When Nyame saw the small spider climbing his way to the sky he laughed at the thought of Anansi paying the price of the tales.
Nyame looked upon Anansi and said, "The tales come at a great price, Spider. You will have to bring me Onini, the great python; Osebo, the leopard; and Mmoboro, the hornets. This is the price of the tales. Can you do that, Anansi?"
"I can, great Nyame," replied Anansi. And so Anansi climbed down the web and set out to capture the first creature, the great python, Onini. He first went into the forest and cut a long pole of bamboo and some vines. Then he carried them to the place where Onini made his home. Anansi held the bamboo pole and started talking loudly to himself, "I'm sure this is longer than he. I know it must be so. My wife is wrong."
Onini heard this talk and asked the spider, "What are you talking about to yourself, Anansi?"
"It is my wife. She says this pole is longer than you and stronger. I disagree, Onini."
"Well, Anansi, that is an easy thing to test. Bring the pole here and I will stretch out alongside it. I'm sure you are right," said Onini.
As soon as the great python stretched his body alongside the pole, Anansi quickly wound them both together with the vine. "I have tricked you, Onini, and now I must bring you to Nyame." Anansi wove a web to carry the python to the Sky God. When he saw Onini and Anansi, Nyame simply said, "A price still remains."
Anansi quickly set out to capture Mmoboro, the hornets. He first found a gourd and cut a small hole in it. Then he took some water from the river and sprinkled it on himself and the gourd. He found the hornets all around the tree where their nest was and sprinkled some water on them as well. "It's raining," he said to them as he picked up a leaf and held it over his head. "Don't you see me standing here under this leaf for protection? Come into this gourd so the rain will not wet your wings." And so the hornets all flew into the small hole that Anansi had made in the gourd. Once they were all inside the gourd, Anansi wove a strong web over the hole so that they could not escape. "I have tricked you, Mmoboro, and now I must bring you to Nyame."
Excerpted from Rainforests by Nancy F. Castaldo. Copyright © 2003 Nancy F. Castaldo. Excerpted by permission of Chicago Review Press Incorporated.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Nancy F. Castaldo is the author of Deserts, Oceans, Rainy Day Play, Sunny Days and Starry Nights, and Winter Day Play!
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