Saturday, July 26, 2014

Building a Rainforest in your Classroom - Teacher Prep

Every year for 12 years my second graders built a rainforest in our classroom when we studied our rainforest unit.  It was the biggest project we undertook and to this day it is the one that they talk about when they come back to visit me.  "Remember when we built a rainforest in our classroom?" they ask. As if I could forget.  It is one of their biggest elementary memories, and one of my favorite ways to teach.

So I thought I'd take a moment to share how we built our rainforest.  I'm sorry to say that it never turned out really photogenic.  It was one of those creations that was amazing to stand in the middle of, but never looked that great when I tried to photograph it.  I've added a few photos here, but please bear with me on the quality.

To build a rainforest I always put up just the bare bones myself and then had the kids do the rest.  To start, I talked a local carpet store into donating the cardboard tubes that carpets get rolled on.  They turned out to be taller than my ceiling, so I sawed off the ends, and there I had my tree trunks, wedged between the floor and the ceiling.
  photo 5

Over the years my rainforest improved, and I'm sorry to say the picture above is from the early years.  You can see in this picture that the tree is just plain cardboard color and the tree tops are a little skimpy.  However in the picture below you can see that one year I painted the tubes to look more wood colored and I changed the tree tops.

photo 1

I used butcher paper to trace 5 palm leaves per tree.  Then I taped a long line of florist wire to the underside, to help them poof out a bit.  I taped all 5 leaves to a square of paper and when I put the trees up I wedged the leaves on top.  For the green vine, I bought paper twists at Joann Fabrics.  You pull them mostly, but not completely, open and they give you a crinkly viney look.    I always had 5 trees set up in my room.  Four of the five trees were set up just like the one above, but the middle one did not have a vine on it.  Check out my next rainforest post to find out why.

Another part of the forest that I set up was vines hanging from tree to tree.  I used to hang paper towel tubes on a string for my vines, you can see them in the first picture, but some later team mates started taking long swaths of brown butcher paper and crinkling it into ropes and they looked much more like real vines.

The last step of set up was the waterfall.  To make this I took a long piece of blue butcher paper and stapled it to the wall.  I had it come out into a little pond at the bottom.  Then I took blue saran wrap and covered the whole surface to give it a shiny watery look.

photo 3

I think the best part of about setting up the rainforest is that I used to do it in secret over winter break.  The kids would walk back into the room in the first week of January and be totally enthralled. They just couldn't get over how much the room had changed.  I love to surprise the kids and watch their faces as they see the first steps of the new learning adventure they are about to embark on.

Check out my next post to see how the kids added to these basics to create their own rainforest details.


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