By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
MUSCATINE — Surrounded by a rainforest of their own design, first-graders at Ss. Mary and Mathias Catholic School recited rainforest facts to a group of older students Feb. 7, along with a few “batty” jokes.
“What do you get when you cross a vampire bat and a snowflake?” one first-grader asked. “Frostbite!” he answered, as the audience erupted in laughter.
For the better part of eight weeks, Madonna Klimes’ first-grade students had been hard at work learning about the rainforest, decorating the classroom and preparing to share their knowledge with students and parents.
The rainforest unit is a tradition nearly 20 years strong for Klimes. “When I first started teaching at our school, I wanted a unit that could connect all the different concepts in our science/social studies curriculum and do a fun project that would get kids inspired to not only love to learn, but get in touch with the world around us.” Each year, she starts with the forest floor and works her way up. “Each layer, I give background information and read lots of books!” Meanwhile, the students create that part of the rainforest using mostly recycled materials and items from home.
This year, the classroom walls were covered in green construction paper leaves. Tree branches, made out of brown packing paper, were surrounded by animals made of recycled materials, such as painted butterflies with toilet-paper-roll bodies. A 30-foot anaconda, made of newspaper-stuffed nylon pantyhose, weaved through the branches. Guests could also see poison dart frogs and a 6-foot-wide flying fox bat, among other crafted animals. Some students brought stuffed animals from home. “It seems to get bigger as I try to add a little more each year,” Klimes said.
Through the presentations, students had a chance to show off what they’d learned. This year, students took turns offering rainforest facts and bat jokes. “Changing colors is a way for chameleons to talk to other chameleons,” one student explained. “Waterways provide a habitat for frogs, reptiles and fish. There are 5,000 species of fish that live in the Amazon River, which is 4,000 miles long,” explained another student.
The content changes from year to year. Previous first-grade classes have offered their presentation in a game-show format or focused on a different aspect of the rainforest, such as what foods grow there.
Klimes said the rainforest unit has been a favorite among first-graders for many years. Current first-grader Gianna said she loved making the rainforest and having the opportunity to look at it every day. Classmate Draven enjoyed bringing in his sloth stuffed-animal “so he can sleep in the rainforest.” First-grader Quinn enjoyed “feeding” the anaconda with newspaper.
Klimes enjoys having the older students in the school come back to the classroom to see the younger children’s rainforest vision come to life. “I love it when they come back to visit and see how we still build it in our classroom.”