A rainforest diorama provides a three-dimensional scale model ideal for explaining the complex rainforest ecosystem. A diorama clearly displays each layer of the rainforest and the relative sizes of trees and animals. Dioramas can also show the differences between tropical rainforests and temperate rainforests. Easy to build and carry, a rainforest diorama is perfect as a school science project or demonstration aid for rainforest conservationists. To make a rainforest diorama realistic, accurate scale and appropriate choice of trees and animals are essential.
Choose a scale. Consider a scale of 1:87 (HO scale). At this scale, a 115-foot rainforest canopy tree would be almost 16 inches. A 5-foot gorilla would be a little more than 1/2-inch tall. If you already have models you want to use, choose your scale based on those. If your tallest model trees are 8 inches, you might decide they represent 130-foot trees. That is a scale of 1:193.
Find a light, yet sturdy container, open on only one side. Options include a shoebox, packing box or plastic storage container. The tropical rainforest canopy can reach 130 feet and temperate rainforest trees average around 100 feet. That means at 1:87 scale, the container must be at least 18 high inches to house a realistic rainforest . For a more attractive container, cover the outside with brown packing paper, green felt or rain forest-themed gift wrap.
Collect your material and models. Make paper cutouts, use three-dimensional models or choose items from rainforest or wild animal play sets. For a tropical rainforest, select broad-leafed evergreens to represent the emergent layer, canopy, understory and shrub layers. For a temperate rainforest, choose a mix of conifer trees like Western red cedars for the canopy and deciduous trees like maples for the understory. Gather moss, sticks, pebbles and finely crushed leaves for the forest floor. Collect or make model wildlife like parrots and tigers for a tropical rainforest, and grouse and elk for a temperate rainforest.
Install your background inside the container. Create a sky by painting the inside top blue or applying blue paper. Paint trees on the back so the forest appears to continue into the distance. Alternatively, print a photo of a rainforest scene and enlarge it to fit your container. To make the forest floor, apply brown or green paper or felt. Add moss and sprinkle crushed leaves for more realism. Strategically place pebbles and sticks to represent boulders and logs.
Set up your trees and animals. Work from back to front in stages, securing items with glue or putty. In the back third, first install large props like canopy trees. Add moss and vines to the trees. Follow this with the lower layers of trees and plants. Finally, add small props like wildlife and people. Do the same in the middle and front sections.
In model railroading, a scale of 1:87 is called HO scale. Using this scale in your rainforest diorama makes it easy to find correctly scaled material at hobby stores. Model your rainforest diorama on a specific geographic region. Include only plants and animals native to that region. Mixing plants and animals that do not naturally inhabit the same areas will make your diorama look unrealistic.
Cover your work surface when working with paint. Monitor children while they use scissors and glue.