The Wonders of Mayan Civilization (Free Spanish Lessons for Kids)
When I was a kid, one of my favorite subjects in school was the Mayan civilization. My teachers made the class as interesting as they could, but the school books weren’t as fun.
I want to help you prepare a great lesson to learn about the Mayan civilization for kids. At the same time we practice our fluency and learn more Spanish vocabulary, so you can discover every important Ancient Mayan facts and share them with your children.
Today we are going to learn who the Maya are, all the important facts of the Mayan empire for kids, why they are relevant today, and share some resources with you to enjoy with your kids!
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Who Are the Maya?
The Mayan civilization was one of the greatest societies that lived in Central America since prehistoric times. They were so advanced in art, mathematics, astronomy, architecture, and also writing!
They lived in the territories that today we know as the Yucatan peninsula—in the southern part of Mexico— Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. And while we know them as “Mayans” or “Maya people” today, they were never just one group, or one society, but several societies that have been identified as that because they lived in the same territory and shared some customs and traditions, like their religion or form of government.
All About Mayan Civilization for Kids
One of the first things to talk about when learning about the Mayan empire for kids is about the Mayan civilization timeline, which can be divided into three periods:
Pre-classic period (El periodo pre-clásico)
El periodo pre-clásico (pre-classic) period took place from the year 1300 BC to the year 300AC.
During this time, the Mayans learned and made a lot of important feats that help them establish their homes, like:
- Develop agricultural activities – desarrollar actividades agriculturales
- Develop irrigation techniques – desarrollar técnicas de irrigación
- Leaned to plant and harvest corn – aprendieron a plantar y cosechar maíz
- Mayan languages were developed – se desarrollaron los idiomas mayas
All these activities helped them to live far from the coasts, and slowly but surely, they began to build settlements that later became cities or towns. These places began to negotiate and trade with each other, which helped create economic and political alliances.
Because there were settlements and societies began to grow, there was a need for leadership, and the best and most important warriors of the cities were usually the leaders of the community.
Religion was also really important for the Mayan civilization, and it was during this time that it began to take more importance. The Mayan were politeístas (polytheists) which means they worshiped more than just one god.
Because of how important religion was for them, a lot of their efforts and resources were used to build temples and ceremonial spaces.
Because they were safe, food was secured and there were no wars, the Mayan population grew a lot during the preclassic period.
Here are some sentences we can use to talk about this period in Spanish:
La civilización maya empezó en el periodo pre-clásico.
Mayan civilization began in the preclassic period.
Los mayas aprendieron a plantar y cosechar maíz.
Mayan people learned to plant and harvest corn.
Los mayas asentaron sus ciudades e hicieron alianzas entre ellos para prosperar.
The Mayan settled in cities, and created alliances between them to thrive.
La actividad económica más importante de los mayas era el comercio.
The most important economic activity for the Mayan was trade.
Los líderes de gobierno también eran guerreros en las ciudades mayas.
The government leaders were also warriors in Mayan cities.
Classic Period (El periodo clásico)
El periodo clásico (classic period) took place from the year 300 to the year 900.
It was during this period that the Mayan civilization thrived in the cultural, economic, religious, artistic, and social aspects.
The irrigation techniques evolved to the creation of canales de riego (irrigation channels) which gave them a lot more space for crops, which helped them to be able to expand their trading routes.
Because of how important religion was during this time too, specialized artisans were highly regarded in this time, especially those who know how to do ceramics and architecture.
Mayans are known for working with a precious stone called jade (jade), and most of their pieces were offered as tribute to their gods. Some of the most important pirámides mayas (Mayan pyramids) were made as offerings for their gods, or they fulfilled a religious role.
During this time, the Mayan created el calendario solar (the solar calendar)—a time system that helped them to get exact dates for their religious and agricultural activities—and big architectural creations became a sign of power.
They also carved estelas (stelae) and monuments with hieroglyphic inscriptions that tell historic events. You can still find some of these in museums or national parks.
During the classic period, the Mayan governments were gobiernos teocráticos (theocratic governments), which means that the people thought there was a divine connection between their gods and their leaders, so their political and religious activities and decisions were intertwined and couldn’t be separated.
Here are some sentences you can use as an example to talk about the classic period of the Mayan civilization for kids!
La civilización maya prosperó durante el periodo clásico.
Mayan civilization thrived during the classic period.
Los mayas crearon el calendario solar.
Mayan created the solar calendar.
El líder de las comunidades mayas también era un guerrero.
The leader of the Mayan communities was also a warrior.
El gobierno de los mayas era teocrático.
The Mayan government was theocratic.
La religión era muy importante para los mayas.
Religion was very important for the Mayan.
Post-Classic Period (El periodo posclásico)
El periodo posclásico (postclassic period) was the most turbulent one for the Mayan.
It took place from the year 900 to the year 1521, when the Spanish began to conquest Latin America.
During this time the different Mayan societies began to have differences, which led them to a militaristic era. This means that cultural and religious activities, and the importance they gave to mathematics, astronomy, art and architecture wasn’t as important as growing their military power.
Some of the most important cities of this era are Chichen Itza, Uxmal, and Mayapán.
There are several reasons as to why the Mayan population began to reduce significantly during this period.
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Some of these are:
- Natural disasters – los desastres naturales
- Climate change and less rain – el cambio de clima y menos lluvia
- Disagreements between the people and the nobles and priests – desacuerdos entre el pueblo y los nobles y los sacerdotes.
- Wars between the different communities – guerras entre los diferentes pueblos
- Sickness like yellow fever and malaria – enfermedades como la fiebre amarilla y el paludismo
Because of all that, the Mayan civilization that the Spanish encountered when they came to America was just a shadow of what they were before, and moving them from their territories and defeating them in fights were much easier.
Here are some sentences to talk about the last days of the Maya in Spanish:
El periodo posclásico fue el último de la civilización maya.
The postclassic period was the last one of the Mayan civilization.
Durante este tiempo hubo muchas guerras.
During this time, there were a lot of wars.
La civilización maya estaba en declive.
Mayan civilization was in decline.
The Maya Today
A lot of people think that the Mayan died when the Spanish came to America, but the truth is that most of Mayan societies just relocated and adapted to the changes that la conquista (conquest) produced.
Today, there are several Maya communities that are alive and thriving even today, but they are not the same as those communities that we know as the Mayan civilization.
Just in Guatemala, there are 22 pueblos mayas (Mayan communities) and at least 42% of the total Guatemalan population are Mayas.
Contributions of the Mayan Civilization for Kids
We already learned all the interesting things the Mayan civilization did during their time, but why are we still learning about them? What did they do that is still relevant today?
Let’s learn more interesting Mayan civilization facts for kids!
1. Expert Astronomers
One of the most important things to know is that the Mayan were expert astronomers! They studied the stars and the planets, even without all the equipment we have today!
They observed the skies and kept a record of different phenomena, and they were so good that they could predict rain, how the stars were going to move and even eclipses! With that knowledge they prepared their cultural, social, political, economic and religious activities.
Scientifics and experts to this day still feel wonder because how precise and perfect are the astronomy studies done by the Mayan civilization.
2. Amazing Mathematicians
In addition to their amazing knowledge of the skies, the Mayans were also phenomenal mathematicians.
The Mayan civilization created a vigesimal number system—this means that the base of the system is the number 20—which helped them in their studies of the stars and the space.
Experts believe they were one of the first civilizations to add and understand the number “0,” and the system was used for hundreds of years until the Spanish conquerors began to erase this knowledge.
Their numeric system was really important for the Mayan, because thanks to that they were able to do important calculations to predict seasons, changes in the stars, and study the universe in a more precise way.
3. They Created One of the Most Precise Calendars
Mayans were so good at mathematics and astronomy that they created one of the most precise and perfect calendars in the world, very similar to the one we use today: el calendario solar (the solar calendar).
Just like ours, it also has 365 days, but instead of 12, it has 18 months of 20 days each, and one month of 5 days.
4. They Created One of the Most Complete Writing Systems in the World
The Mayan civilization was the only pre-columbian civilization in the area that created a complete writing system.
They are known as jeroglíficos (hieroglyphs) and you can find them in enormous stone monuments known as estelas (stelae). The inscriptions were engraved directly in the stone and were used to describe historical events of great importance.
They also made books with tree bark and animal skin, but all of that was lost when the Spanish began the process of conquering America.
5. Buildings That Have Lasted Centuries
Mayan ruins aren’t easy to miss.
Most of them have a pyramidal form, and are made of stone.
The most impressive part of it is that everything the Maya built had an actual purpose. It wasn’t just for decoration, or to show power. Most of their temples and impressive buildings that still stand today served a religious, scientific, or political purpose.
Even the buildings made during the postclassic period still stand today, after thousands of rainy days, direct sunlight, earthquakes and urbanization.
But how are the Mayan Civilizations still relevant today?
While we use our own calendar, numeric, and writing system, what the Maya studied Hundreds of years ago, we still study today.
The way they understood the universe, their approach to mathematics, their precision to understand natural phenomena and their capability to keep record of all of it shape the knowledge we have today.
Also, their beliefs and religion, usually called cosmovisión (cosmovision) is still relevant in a lot of Mayan and non-Mayan communities in Latin America.
Resources To Learn About the Mayan Civilization for Kids
I know that covering the entire Ancient Maya civilization for kids in one blog post is almost impossible, and for that reason, I want to help you prepare with as many resources as I can to make this lesson as interesting for you and your kids as it was for me!
First, here is an amazing review of the Mayan Civilization by History that is perfect for older kids. The reading is entertaining and not heavy at all! Besides, since they have a better Spanish fluency and a longer attention span, this video is perfect to learn about the Mayan Civilization in Spanish.
Also, here is a small vocabulary list on Spanish words that you can read again and again when learning and teaching about the Mayan civilization for Kids:
|numeric system||el sistema numérico|
|solar calendar||el calendario solar|
|writing system||el sistema de escritura|
And here are some adjectives for the kids to use when talking about the Mayan Civilization!
You can also download these fun activities for your kids to do to review this lesson!
And if your kids are more like me and like to spend hours looking at cool pictures, this picture collection of Nat Geo will pique their interest!
Let’s Keep Learning!
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No parent intends for it to happen but it’s all too easy to get stuck in a rut of choosing books, movies, and television programs that only feature people who look and talk like your family. Learning Spanish opens your child’s eyes to a world beyond their front door. It encourages conversations around diversity, culture, and respecting others. It also opens the door to a rich repository of Spanish music, film, and literature!
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