Resources for a Homeschool Unit on the Mayans

We’re in the middle of a unit on the Mayans right now that is going far better than I expected. Sometimes, my plans flop and the kids don’t get interested in anything related to our history reading. Not this time.

Links are affiliate links. If you purchase from Amazon, I get a small payment from your purchase. Thanks! As always, I highly recommend checking your local library first. That’s where I get most of my books.

We started with the section in the Usborne Ancient World encyclopedia about the Ancient Cities of the Americas. I like this format because it provides just enough text to get an overview and some pictures to grab your attention.

Usborne Ancient WorldWhen I planned out my year, I tried to anticipate what on these pages might interest the kids, and then I searched for some books that I could have available so they could learn more. Thankfully, I perfectly nailed what my son would be into. See that column on the right? It’s about Mayan hieroglyphs. As soon as my son saw it, he started drilling me with questions. Thankfully, I could say, “I’ve got a book about that for you!”

secrets in stoneSecrets in Stone: All About Maya Hieroglyphs is a fantastic overview. I’m sad to see that this book is apparently out of print. We got our copy from the library. Amazon has some used copies.

The great part about this book is that it gives kids all the history and symbols they need to do their own writing. By the end of the day, the boy had counted all of the money in our coin jar using the Mayan system for numerals, and then had written his own history (Stela) like the kings used to:

heiroglyphsTranslated, it says “James (yames), son of Dave (tabe), son of Amy, with 17 friends.”

My daughter was more interested in the architecture and the pyramids, and noticed that the temples were very similar to the temples found in the jungles in Minecraft. We had a great conversation about the similarities and how we might make similar things in our shared Minecraft world.

corngrowsripeHonestly, the girl is pretty disgusted by the whole culture and their blood sacrifices, so she has shied away from doing much more. I think we’ll read The Corn Grows Ripe together tomorrow to finish up our studies with a heart-warming story about a boy trying to do the best for his family.

I also checked out these books, which we’ve flipped through and read parts of:


The Ancient Maya by Jackie Maloy. I really enjoy these True Books for elementary ages, because they are well-organized and give plenty of information about a number of different topics.

Check if your library has a copy of Peter Ackroyd’s Cities of Blood if you want to do an in-depth study of the early Americans. This is a larger book.

The Chocolate Tree: A Mayan Folktale by Linda Lowery tells the story of king Kukulkán and his gift of the chocolate tree.

ballplayersandbonesettersBallplayers and Bonesetters: One Hundred Ancient Aztec and Maya Jobs You Might Have Adored or Abhorred by Laurie Coulter. This Jobs in History series is one of my favorites for teaching about cultures. Each job is presented in a light-hearted but informative way (unlike the You Wouldn’t Want To Be A _____ books, which often stick to gruesome and horrifying — great for some kids, but disturbing for mine most of the time). We’ve also enjoyed Warriors and Wailers during our Ancient China studies and Archers, Alchemists, and 98 Other Medieval Jobs You Might Have Loved or Loathed.

If you’re looking for more hands-on resources, I found this great Pinterest board that includes videos, craft projects, and more books about the Mayans, Aztecs, and Incas.

Have you done a unit on the Ancient Americans? Have any great resources you’d recommend? Let me know in the comments!


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