Ancient Maya Unit Plan

This summer we’re diving into the Ancient Maya and the rain forest biome. We have two friends along for the ride, the same ages as my kids (7 and 10), so it will be fun to have some extra energy around! See also our Rain Forest Unit Plan, our Ancient Maya Book/Video List, and our Rain Forest Book List.

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Week 1
We always start our culture studies with mythology. Each day we read one of the Maya stories from Mayan and Aztec Mythology. I used a summary sheet from Teachers Pay Teachers, and the kids filled it out as we reviewed the story. I then asked the littles to come up with 20 key words from the story. The bigs had to work together to come up with an exactly 20 word summary. I thought their summaries were so good! At the end of the week we watched cartoon versions of the myths on YouTube.

We always like to look at cultures through the lens of Fundamental Human Needs. I’m not sure what background the other two kids have, therefore I presented our FHN chart and we had a discussion about our Fundamental Needs. I printed Fundamental Human Needs booklets from for the kids to examine their own fundamental needs before we start recording the needs of the Maya.

At the end of the week I printed some timeline cards from homeschooling2e, cut out the ones my kids have experience with, and introduced a timeline. Our friends didn’t think they’d had any experience with a timeline, but we talked about the pyramids, Ancient Greece, the fall of Rome, the start of Islam, the Vikings, the terracotta army…all memory joggers for my kids. We related the timeline to where we are in 2022 CE, and talked about BCE and CE.

The two older kids also completed the content section of Lesson 5 and Lesson 6 (the Mayan mythology lessons) from Amplify/CKLA’s 5th Grade Early American Civilizations unit.

Week 2

During our second week I wanted to give a general overview of Mayan history, while continuing to expose the kids to mythology.

Each day I found time to read from Maya Gods and Monsters. We discussed the stories, but did not write any summary sheets.

At the beginning of the week I asked each student to pick one of the myths from last week. They all picked the story of Seven Macaw and His Sons! So, as a group we reviewed all the events in the story and they made a list of key points. They decided how many frames they wanted and I printed out comic book paper so that they could retell the story. I did give the option of writing the story, but they all wanted to make a comic strip. They all started their strips in the second week, but needed to continue into week 3 for completion.

Two mornings, while the kids were working on art or handiwork, I read aloud chapters 1 and 2 from Maya: Amazing Inventions You Can Build Yourself. The book is in black and white, so I’d previously been through our library books and found relevant pictures to go along with the read alouds. One morning we added all the mentioned dates to our timeline, and the other morning we filled in our new knowledge on a FHN chart. I also added more bars to our timeline showing the pre- and post- classic Maya periods of time.

I also asked the children to do a 10-minute journal write about how they meet one of their fundamental needs.

Week 3
During our third week, the kids all finished up their comic strips – and they look great!

We read the next two chapters in Maya: Amazing Inventions You Can Build Yourself, discussing Gods and Sacrifices, and Merchants.

We added notes to our FHN chart and spent some time discussing vanity. One option given for follow up work was to create a page discussing how the Maya decorated their bodies, or give an example of some jewelry.

I also had green tissue paper squares and paper masks available for the kids to make masks. We read about a jadeite death mask made for Pikal, ruler of Palenque and I thought they might like the creative option.

The merchant chapter discussed transportation. After the reading we talked about paragraph structure, and I guided the kids through writing a paragraph. We used the 12323 structure from the Write By Number curriculum. We actually ended up writing our sentences out of order, but they were asked to go back and edit their sentences and create a cohesive paragraph at a later time.

The older girls continued with the CKLA ELA lessons. In their reading they read about Maya farming techniques. They were walked through the process of note taking and paraphrasing and wrote a first draft paragraph, incorporating specific ideas from the text.

At the end of the week we made some Maya style hot chocolate! We used Abuelita brand chocolate & soymilk, with agave and chili powder options. Yum! I also introduced my Ancient Maya Guess Who game – the kids have a good grasp on quite a few of the Maya gods now, so we had fun playing!

I also started reading Where is Chichen Itza? by Paula K Manzanero to the kids.

Week 4
Honestly, I knocked week 4 out of the park. It was amazing!

Our next chapter read aloud was about Farming, Food, and Clothing. Before I read I helped everyone get super cute circular weaving looms from Funky Craft Junkie set up. As I read, they wove. Three of the four kids absolutely loved this. To be honest, they would really have liked to spend the whole morning weaving. Since they were so engaged in the weaving, I kept going and read the next chapter about Maya Children. I tried really hard to let them have plenty of time, and after snack they did move on to other work. The oldest two got their weaving finished by the end of the morning and had their looms restrung for the next time!

As a follow up option, I provided human body cut outs and plenty of scrap papers. The kids could research different clothing options and make a collage picture or write about their findings.

We edited and re-wrote last week’s transportation paragraphs. The older girls used CKLA’s questions and prompts to do their same with their farming paragraphs. The kids (especially the older two) have been encouraged to take any piece of writing and decorate. There’s been a lot of drawing, looking through books for Maya patterns, and decorating.

At the end of the week I presented the Maya Number System. I used information from the Numbers chapter of Maya: Amazing Inventions You Can Build Yourself, a set of task cards I created myself, and worksheets from Maya Archaeologist. Along with my task cards, I drew a place value guide on construction paper and provided shells, rocks, and sticks. The two littles were immediately drawn to building and evaluating numbers with the material. The older two went straight for the worksheets, but they were all SO engaged in this work! (These task cards turned into a whole Ancient Maya Math Pack! My daughter was so engaged in this work that she did most of the written work for the pack, and I’ll be splitting all sales with her.)

Week 5
I’ll admit, I was afraid week 5 might fall flat. However, we had a good week. We began learning about the Maya calendar. While the kids cut and assembled a calendar from Maya Archaeologist‘s calendar pack I gave a presentation based on information from her website. Once we had the calendar assembled we used her website to look up everyone’s Maya birthday and a couple of the kids copied the glyphs onto their calendar work.

Since learning about the number system was so successful last week, I created another set of cards with Maya addition and subtraction problems. I gave a presentation on adding and subtracting in the Maya number system, based on a video from Jaguar Stones, and printed their worksheet for the older kids. The littles again really enjoyed working through the task cards, using the shell, stick, and rock material. One of my older kids grasped the concept pretty quickly with the worksheet, and the other completed it using the hands on material later in the day.

We also explored Maya games this week. We’ve already discussed Pok a Tok several times. Maya: Amazing Inventions You Can Build Yourself also describes a game called Bul, which is quite similar to Ancient Egyptian Senet. I printed a game board and a set of instructions. Everyone had a good time playing a couple of rounds of this game. A printable version of Bul is a bonus addition to my Ancient Maya Math Pack.

For the most part, independent cultural work for the week consisted of finishing up unfinished work from previous weeks. The older girls have finished the CKLA Maya lessons, so I gave them a generic note-taking graphic organizer, and asked them to look through one of our library books and take notes on a fundamental need that we haven’t written about yet.

Week 6

Our big focus for week 6 was finishing up work. Almost everyone had 2 pieces of work in progress. I finished read alouds from the last couple of chapters of Maya: Amazing Inventions You Can Build Yourself. We’ve finished reading Where is Chichen Itza? by Paula K Manzanero, so we also watched some videos about Chichen Itza – video links can be found on the book/video page.

Once everyone had all their pages started/partially completed, we began gluing the pages together to make codices. The Maya used tree bark for their codices. We glued strips of paper to the back or our individual pages to join them, then glued other pages to the back to make them double sided. I have a sheet of thick plastic on my dining table to protect from…well…kids, and it turned out the be a great weight to make sure the paper dried flat overnight.

We did look at Maya writing this week. The Ancient Maya language was both logographic (like Chinese) and syllabic – a tough combination! Using information from Maya Archeologist, I printed a couple of syllybaries. We had to break all our names into consonant-vowel syllables, substitute for sounds the Maya didn’t have…and build our glyphs. It was pretty hilarious. Most of us had a v or a r sound in our names – which the Maya didn’t have, so we substituted with a w sound.

Once they’d planned their name glyph, they copied it onto a square of fabric. Another day they used pre-cut pieces of jaguar print cotton to sew codex covers. They Maya would have covered their codices with actual jaguar skin pouches. Ick. All these kids have sewing machine experience so they were able to pin and sew fairly independently.

The codices came out so well! More importantly the kids gained such a deep knowledge of the Ancient Maya culture. We made so many connections to our own lives, to other cultures we studied, and I’ve heard the kids have really great conversations amongst themselves.

I hope this guide is helpful – give some of our activities a try! Check out our Rain Forest Unit Plan, our Ancient Maya Book/Video List, and our Rain Forest Book List for more inspiration.

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