Peru Unit Study: Week 2

This week, we will focus on the rich history of the people of Peru. We will highlight the first people to inhabit Peru, the great Inca Empire, and the colonization by Spain. Our lessons will include many beautiful picture books to make these ancient people and their engineering marvels come to life! Activities will include several art and science projects to help the lessons stick. Click here to download your skills tracker for the week.

What you need:

Books (find at your local library or order below on Amazon):

Optional additional books:

Optional chapter books:

Supplies (use what you have, but here are links to shop if you need anything):

Note: We break down our supply list so you can choose what you need based on which lessons you plan to do with your child.

Textile bookmarks:

Apple desiccation experiment:

Build a bridge activity:

Build an Inca road:

Make a quipu:

Lemon + lime recipe:

Peruvian ceviche:

Cooking with acids:

What to do:

We recommend doing the below lessons in this order to build on each skill your child will develop, but don’t feel that you *need* to do them in this order. Do what works for you and your child. If they love an activity, feel free to repeat! Not a winner? Skip and try the next thing. Have fun!

Lesson 1:

We’ll begin our week with an introduction to the ancient people of Peru. Begin by reading Peru: The People and Culture pages 6 and 7 under “Early Civilizations” to learn about the first people to live in the land we today call Peru. The Chavin, Nazca, Moche, Huari, and Chimu people all preceded the Inca Empire. As you read, the people and country of Peru have a rich history that extends back thousands of years. 

Activity 1: Read + Discuss – Let’s learn about the ancient people called the Inca. It is difficult to get a truly accurate picture of Inca culture because they did not have a written language, so a written record of their life does not exist. Instead, much of their story is told by found artifacts and fossils, legends and folk tales that continue to be told by Inca people today, and by records of history told by their conquerors, the Spanish. 

Next, read pages 8 and 9 of Peru: The People and Culture or the DK webpage. Click around the site to learn more about the Inca’s structures, culture, and history. We will dive into many of these throughout the week. Next, click here for a brief video history of the Inca civilization. Finally, begin reading the picture book Machu Picchu to learn even more details about their culture, religion, engineering feats, economy, and conquest.

(+) Older kids might also enjoy reading the graphic novel series Horrible Histories: Incredible Incas throughout the week. 

Ready for a chapter book? Introduce the book Addison Cooke and the Treasure of the Incas.

Activity 2: As you saw in the video, the Incan society was well structured and organized. One of the things they did as a society was store crops and goods in storehouses. These were called qolcas (qullqa)

Qolcas were an important part of the agricultural technologies of ancient Peru because they were designed to store vegetables and grains in times of bad harvests. They were usually round for corn and square for roots, and they were made of stone and built along the hillsides to take advantage of cool breezes. Their construction protected food from spoiling. Small channels along the floor allowed cool air into the silo and allowed water to leave should rain be an issue. They were generally built in lower elevations to avoid frost. (source and source)

For our first STEM activity, try to recreate a qolca structure as made by the Incas using natural materials in your backyard or in your craft supply closet. Small rocks, sand, glue, playdough, or clay could all be good options to build the base structure. Using cardstock paper, form a cone structure to build the roof. Attach the roof and cover it with grass or straw. Use this picture as your inspiration. 

Activity 3: One famous ancient site of Peru is Machu Picchu. Refer to the book Machu Picchu again (pages 26-37) to learn about this ancient site.

Next, read the picture book Lost City: The Discovery of Machu Picchu to learn about what it was like for the first American to visit this ancient site in the early 1900s. 

Now, let’s do some critical thinking. Professor Hiram Bingham is said to have “discovered” Machu Picchu, but the boy who brought him to the site knew it was there all along. Should Bingham be given the credit as a “discoverer”? Were there benefits to his visit and excavations? Discuss these questions with your child after reading to get them thinking.

Next, take a virtual tour of Machu Picchu here. Read more about this site, how it was built, and what it could have been used for here

Finally, click here to read more details about this ancient place and do this writing assignment in the post:

Ask children to imagine that they’re an explorer on an expedition to Machu Picchu. Ask them to write a letter/report to send back home, describing the site and what they’ve seen there. They could also illustrate their letter/report with drawings or diagrams of the ruins in their mountain landscape.

Download the PDF at the bottom of the webpage for a beautiful picture of Machu Picchu, along with various facts, that might inspire their own drawings.

Ready for an easy and fun chapter book to read this week? Try one of these options: Where is Machu Picchu? or Investigating Machu Picchu: An Isabel Soto Archaeology Adventure

Activity 4: Read + Discover. Ancient textiles from Peru were made with cotton, the wool of alpacas, llamas and the superior and rare wool of vicuñas and guanacos. Clothing made from the wool of vicuñas and guanacos was exclusively for the Inca and the nobility. One of the greatest weavers before the rise of the Incas was the Paracas culture dating back to 600 B.C. They created brightly colored textile using natural dyes in 190 different shades, and some of these tapestries maintain their original colors and have been preserved in excellent condition due to the dryness of the desert and the lack of natural light. Their creations show style and design unparalleled by any other pre-Inca culture. Common designs used in their textile were geometric figures and anthropomorphous and animal designs, such as birds and felines. 

During the reign of the Incas, textile was used to solidify the control of new territories. When the Inca conquered new territory, he would present its leader with the finest textile and, if accepted, they would also accept the Inca as their new ruler.

Inca clothing identified the status of people or ethnic group and their ayllu (or clan) in the Inca society. Clothes and textiles worn by the general population were made of abasca textile, which was made of a coarser wool, usually the wool of llamas. On the coast, they mostly used cotton. Abasca textile was made by women and children who spun the sheared wool into thread with a spindle. (source)

Let’s try our hand at some textile making! Create these bookmarks inspired by the colorful textiles of Peru. 

Do we want a movie night idea? The Emporer’s New Groove is an animated film about an Inca emperor—it’s also on Disney+!

Lesson 2:

There are many people who have worked to preserve the culture and history of Peru, and one of them is famous archaeologist Julio C. Tello, also known as Sharuko! Let’s learn about his interesting life and incredible discoveries in the picture book, Sharuko: Peruvian Archaeologist Julio C. Tello.

Tello was sort of an archaeologist detective. He was following the trail of ancient textiles purchased in an illegal market in 1925 when he stumbled across ancient remains. Two years later, he found an ancient burial site which included 429 ceremonial mummy bundles. He also discovered many ancient textiles, including cotton, embroidered mantles, ponchos, multicolored shirts, turbans, and bags. (source

Sharuko discovered several of the ancient Incas many impressive science and engineering feats. Let’s learn about more of these today.

Activity 1: Discover Mummies. Mummies? In Peru? Yes! Although most people think of Ancient Egypt when they hear about mummies, they are actually found in many parts of the world. In South America, mummified bodies have been found in both Peru and Chile. 

Refer to the book Inca Mummies (or any other book you find that references the South American mummies) to see images of Inca mummified bodies. (Note: We recommend this book because it shows so many interesting fossils and preserved ancient Inca bodies, but the mummified people at times look very real. If you are worried your child might be upset by it, look through it first before sharing it with them.) 

Chauchilla was a burial ground for the Nazca people, in use between the 2nd and 9th century CE. The conditions of the Peruvian desert, combined with Nazca burial practices, meant that despite the time elapsed, the bodies were in remarkably good condition when found, with many still having hair and skin attached. The Nazca painted the skin with resin and used mud-brick lined tombs, which kept out moisture and bacteria that would normally invade and cause the bodies to decompose quicker.

Over the centuries, the burial grounds were robbed and looted and many of the bodies were spread haphazardly across the burial grounds or left in open graves. The incredibly well preserved Nazca corpses, however, are still in the original cloth in which they were laid to rest. All of the corpses face east, in accordance with the Nazca culture, and they are all in the sitting position. The tombs were formally rediscovered in the 1920s, and they have been under the protection of the Peruvian government since 1997. (source)

Take a look at the ancient ruins of the burial site here in this video

Unlike Egyptian mummies, the Incas wrapped their dead in bundles called fardo. The bodies are folded in a fetal position, then wrapped in cloth along with food and various possessions. Feathers were prized by many Incas and are often found among the possessions of the rich. Many bundles were also given wigs and fake heads. A famous mummy found in Peru is called the Cotton King because he was wrapped in three hundred pounds of raw cotton for burial.

This webpage shares more details about the practice, as well as an illustration of the layers of textiles used to wrap the body. The bodies that Tello found were surprisingly well preserved due to the dry climate and high salt content in the region. (source) Another term for the removal of moisture for the sake of preservation is desiccation. 

Let’s make a science application to see how desiccation helped to preserve these mummies for archaeologists today with this apple desiccation experiment!

Activity 2: Cusco (also spelled Cuzco) was once the capital of the Inca Empire. Cusco is the oldest city in the Americas, built 3,000 years ago. It included buildings, homes, temples, aqueducts, and farming land. Click here to see pictures of what is left of its ruins.

Today, you can visit Cusco and find the beautiful Sacsayhuaman archaeological site. It is a very large area that once served as a fortress for the Inca people. Its large wall and stone structures are very impressive! Take a look here to learn more history and some pictures. 

One of the most amazing things you will see in Peru is the last Inca bridge in existence. The bridge is made of vegetable fiber or straw. The Andean people call this vegetable “Ichu” in the Quechua language. Take a look at this article about the last Inca bridge, which is 30 meters long and located in the Huinchiri community (Quehue district, in the south of Cusco) on the Apurímac River. The Indigenous communities of Hunchiri, Chaupibanda, Choccayhua, and Ccollana Quehue are in charge of the bridge reconstruction, which takes place in the second week of June of each year. The reconstruction lasts three days, and on the fourth day, the bridge is inaugurated with a folkloric and ceremonial festival. (source)

Let’s bring this to life by building our own bridge! Using crafting supplies like pipe cleaners, popsicle sticks, string, newspapers, masking tape, straws, and scissors, try to build a bridge between two peaks. (You could use two chairs or two ends of a box for your peaks.) This website has some inspiration.

Activity 3: Discover The Qhapaq Ñan. The Incas created a network of roads called Qhapaq Ñan. These roads were carefully planned, engineered, built, marked, and maintained, and even paved where necessary! It included stairways to gain elevation, bridges and accessory constructions like retaining walls, and water drainage system. It was based on two north–south roads: one along the coast and the second and most important inland and up the mountains, both with numerous branches.

Read the book The Incans and their Road System to learn about this engineering feat. 

Next, make your own Inca road model! The roads of Peru were not built on flat surfaces so let’s recreate the roads on these mountainous terrain. Using newspaper and masking tape, create hills and mountain terrains and place them in your box. It should look something like this:

In an old bucket or bowl, mix together 2 cups plaster of paris and 1 cup of sand. Slowly pour add 1 cup of water to make a concrete-like paste. Pour the mixture over the newspaper mountains to create a realistic looking surface. This will be your first layer. It will need to dry for at least 15 minutes. At this point, it should look like this:

To make the next layer, mix together 1 cup of plaster of paris and 1/2 cup of sand. Slowly add 1/2 cup of water to make a paste. (If the mixture is too runny, add a handful of sand.) Using the backside of the spoon, spread a trail of this sand mixture layer on your mountain to create a thin layer of road. Press larger, flat stones into your road. Allow to dry thoroughly (for at least an hour).

Once your mountain is dry, paint the mountain side in brown and green to show the mountain landscape. The road will stand out as paved stones. Your final version will look something like this:

Lesson 3:

Activity 1: Discover the Language. Quechua is the language spoken by not only the ancient people of Peru, but also by about 12 million South Americans today. It continues to be taught in schools and is one of the official languages of Peru. Various studies indicate that Quechua originated on the central coast of the Lima region. (source) Watch this video to learn how to say “hello” and “goodbye” in Quechua.

(+) This video shares more of the history of this centuries-old language. Watch for as long as your child maintains interest. The end of the video includes many linguistic details that are very advanced.

Activity 2: Let’s learn about the quipu (or khipus). Quipu were communication devices consisting of a main cord from which a series of knotted strings of varying length and color were suspended (called pendant cords). The strings were woven from cotton or the wool from llamas or alpacas. It’s believed that the number of knots—as well as knot types and their position on each pendant cord—was used for record keeping according to a decimal system. The cords were likely used to keep stock of various commodities stored in qolqas, or warehouses, that were located across the empire. (source) Take a look at this website for a clear picture of what a quipu looks like and a video explaining how we think they were used. 

Are you a spanish-speaking family? Listen to this video (in Spanish) to learn more about the quipu.

Next, let’s make a homemade quipu! Cut a piece of cardboard into a rectangle, then cut a piece of yarn long enough to cover the top of your rectangle. Attach it with tape on one side. Cut the colored strings evenly and attach to the top string by tying them. You can use alternating colors to make them stand out. Once all the strings are attached, tape the second side of the top string to the cardboard. You may also want to tape the cardboard down to a table to make it easier to use.

As a family, choose some objects in the home to count (chairs, beds, pencils, books, etc.). Next, determine which string will represent these objects. Also determine how to represent each number (where to tie the knot, groups of knots, single knots etc.). Give each student a small pile of several objects or a list of items to count around the home. Students can count the number of each object and mark the amount with knots on the quipu.

If working with a larger family or a co-op, have other children in the group decipher each other’s quipus. This activity also has math applications if you use the quipu string position to represent place value as was explained in the video above.

Lesson 4:

In today’s activities, we’ll be exploring the history and impact of Spanish colonization on Peru. Colonization can be a difficult subject to discuss, but it is a crucial part of sharing and teaching historical truth. Want tips for how to discuss it in a gentle, age-appropriate way? This article can help.

We recommend doing this lesson together as a family instead of assigning the reading. Some of the topics in the articles discuss details of colonization that are difficult for children to process on their own. This lesson will provide many opportunities to hone in on critical thinking skills.

For more about our approach to teaching history, click here.

Activity 1: Read the book Machu Picchu, pages 40-43, for a very brief explanation of Spanish colonization of Peru. Watch this video next.

(+) For a more detailed explanation of the Spanish conquest of South America and the effects this had on the world, watch this video. (The Incas are introduced around 3:00.)

Activity 2: For a brief introduction to Inca beliefs, read this post.
(+) Learn more about the Inca Religion in this article

The Spanish conquest spread Christianity in South America, and most people were forcefully converted to Catholicism—taking only a generation to convert the population. They built churches in every city and replaced some of the Inca temples with churches, such as the Coricancha in the city of Cusco. The church employed the inquisition, using torture to make sure that newly converted Catholics did not stray to other religions or beliefs. Today, Peruvian Catholicism follows the syncretism found in many Latin American countries, in which religious native rituals have been integrated with Christian celebrations. (source)

The book Peru, the People and Culture explains: “Most Peruvians are Roman Catholics, but many indigenious people still practice traditional religions and worship Inca gods. The ancient Incas built mountain top sites to worship the sun and mountains. Today, indigenous people continue to honor the mountains. Before beginning a journey through the Andes, travelers make an offering of statues, coca leaves, incense, and llama fat. These offerings are sold in the village markets in bundles called despachos.” (Peru, the People and Culture)

Every June 24, the Sun God is the protagonist of one of the most important and traditional festivities celebrated in Peru, the Inti Raymi, or ‘Sun Festival.’ More than 800 people, including actors, dancers, and musicians, dress in traditional clothing and star in a series of scenes that are performed outside the temple of Qorikancha and the Sacsayhuamán Archaeological Park, as well as in the Main Square of the city. Locals and tourists alike come to celebrate the Inca New Year. (source

You can see videos of these celebrations here and here

Activity 3: While the dark days of the conquistadors may be over, the influences of Spain’s long colonial rule can still be seen in Peru today. From lavish presidential palaces to monasteries, Peru is filled with beautiful–and historically important–colonial buildings. (source + click for pictures of tourist attractions and famous places in Peru where Spanish architecture can be seen.) 

Next, watch this video to see many features of Lima, the capital of Peru.

An architectural feature common both in Spain and in Peru are balconies. In fact, the balconies of Lima have become a famous feature to see when touring the city. After looking at this link as inspiration, design your own balcony or copy on you see on graph or drawing paper or build one out of LEGO or on Minecraft.

Lesson 5:

For our final day this week, we’ll explore some food history around a popular fruit of Peru, limes!

Activity 1: Peru is a producer and exporter of limes. These delicious citrus are different from what we find in North America, tasting tart and less bitter than what we might be used to. (source) Although they aren’t native to South America, limes came to Peru with the European colonizers and are now a big part of Peruvian cuisine.

Let’s try some Peruvian cuisine with this delicious lemon + lime pie recipe

Activity 2: Enjoy your lemon + lime pie as you read or listen to the Peruvian folk story, Love and Roast Chicken: A Trickster Tale from the Andes Mountains.

Alternatively, Spanish-speaking (or -learning!) families will enjoy this audible link to 25 Peruvian tales.

(+) Or, try a little Tea + Poetry! Read this collection of poetry from famous Peruvian poets as you enjoy your treat. 

(-) Activity 3: Get a little math practice and learn about patterns using the book Patterns in Peru. This book may seem very simple, but it introduces an important mathematical foundation. After reading the book, recreate the T-chart in the picture towards the end of the book. The T-chart introduces the 3 times table. You can make this t-chart in the dirt just like they did in the book, or you can make it with chalk or on paper. (This is a great activity for introducing multiplication and reinforcing the pattern.)

Activity 4: A classic Peruvian dish is ceviche. This dish consists of raw fish and seafood marinated in an acid mixture of lemon juice, lime juice, orange juice, or a mixture of them all. The acid “cooks” the fish. How does it do it?

As the pieces of fish sit in the marinade, the citric acid from the juice slowly causes the flesh’s proteins to break down in very much the same way that heat will. The result is raw fish with the opaque appearance and firmed texture of cooked fish. Are you brave enough to prepare ceviche? Here’s a classic recipe.

Want to play more with the concept of “cooking” food with acids? Read this post and try experimenting with using acids to “cook” eggs. Try using lime juice in addition to the acids suggested in the post.

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Published by The Learn + Live Letter

The Learn + Live Letter is a play- and project-based homeschool curriculum for children ages 3-12.