Mesoamerica Unit Study: Week 3

We’re so excited to continue our journey to Mesoamerica this week, taking a deeper dive on some of the culture and values of the Aztec and Maya civilizations! As always, consider this lesson plan a framework for your homeschool. Want to finish all the lessons in a couple days? Go for it! Prefer to space them out one per day this week? That works great, too. Start by reading through all of the lessons before you begin your week so you can determine which activities you’ll complete and which supplies you will need. Here’s your tracker! Use it to keep track of the books you will read and the activities you do.

What you need:

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

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

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

Model irrigation STEM activity:

Maya alphabet art:

Corn tortillas recipe:

Fermentation experiment:

Cooking math application:

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:

Activity 1: Research and Discover. Read Amazing Ancients! page 3 + 6 to learn more about the systems of agriculture used in ancient Mesoamerica. For more details, read this page and look at the pictures.

Activity 2: Ready for a little STEM work? Let’s create our own model irrigation system like this one.

Lesson 2:

For today’s lessons, we’ll be taking a deeper look at history and what we know about the end of these ancient civilizations.

Activity 1: Start by reading the book Montezuma and the Fall of the Aztecs by Eric Kimmel.

Activity 2: Discover. Are the Mayas also a lost civilization? No! Although the peak of Maya society was long ago, there are still some six million Maya people living today in Mexico and other parts of Central America. Some still practice their ancient religion and speak their native languages. (source) Read Honest History page 12 and 13 to read about the Maya today. Next, watch the last three minutes of this video.

Activity 3: Writing. Chose one of these options—pick the one that most appeals to your child:

  • Narration: After reading the story Montezuma and the Fall of the Aztecs, ask your child to narrate the story. If you have never done narration, start small. Going back to one of the pages, reread a section and then ask your child what that paragraph was about. They can start by verbally telling you before writing down their summary. Here is a blog post to help you guide them through this process
  • Creative Journaling: Open to the pages in our story where Aztecs first see the Spanish ships, the horses, and the cannons. Ask your child to pretend that they were one of the lookouts that first reported what they saw when the Spanish ships arrived on your land. How would you have described a Spanish ship or a horse or a cannon? Use descriptive words to make your observations. Prompt your child by asking them to describe the textures, the shape, the size, the color, and the sounds. 
Lesson 3:

Today, let’s learn about the Maya alphabet.

Activity 1: Read + Discover. Mayas had an alphabet based on a group of pictures that scientists today call glyphs. These glyphs formed one of the most complicated systems of writing anywhere in the world. Some of the images stand for words or ideas; others represent syllables. Together they not only form a writing system but also an elaborate and beautiful expression of stone-carved art. Read this post to learn more and watch the video embedded in the post.

Activity 2: Read Honest History pages 28 and 29 about Tatiana Proskouriakoff, the woman who deciphered the Maya glyphs.

Activity 3: Create this art piece inspired by the Mayans alphabet.

Lesson 4:

Religion affected almost every part of the ancient Maya’s life. Let’s learn more about their beliefs today.

Activity 1: Read + Discover Amazing Ancients! page 22 to learn about the Mayan creation story.

One of the most important Mayan gods was the maize god:

“The Maya believed in an array of gods who represented aspects of nature, society and professions. The maize god, Hun Hunahpu, was one of the most important owing to his connection with this vital staple crop. He is shown here as a youthful, handsome man. His headdress is a stylized ear of corn and his hair is the silk of the corn.” (source + click for photo) You can also look at this museum exhibit of a corn deity.

Activity 2: Read + Discuss. Read Honest History pages 44 and 45 to learn the story of maize. 

Talk about the word maize. It sounds like “maze” but means something different and is spelled differently, too. When words sound the same but have different meanings, they are called homophones. Can your child think of any other homophones they know? (Examples: read and red, hi and high, brake and break.)
(+) Similarly, a homonym is two words that sound and are spelled the same, but have different meanings, like “lie” (which can mean to be dishonest or a reclined position). Can your child think of other examples of homonyms?

Next, read the story: The First Tortilla by Rudolfo Anaya. (This is a mythical, ancient story to explain the discovery of maize.)

Lesson 5:

Let’s end our week with a few delicious food history activities!

Activity 1: Yesterday we learned the importance of corn in Maya religion and diet. Today, let’s make corn tortillas with this recipe.

Tip: Some recipes ask for salt as well, so you can add some to ours if you prefer a saltier flavor. We also recommend allowing the dough to sit while you do activity 3, then prepare the tortillas while doing activity 4. 

Activity 2: Science application. Pop Quiz! Is corn a vegetable or a fruit? Answer: A fruit! Since corn is a seed that comes from the ovary/flower part of the plant, it is technically a fruit. (You can read more about it here, but it’s a little complicated.) 

Did you know that some cars today run off of corn? Yes, you heard that right! Ethanol fuel (which is commonly used in cars that take “flex fuel”) is actually made out of corn. Here’s a two-minute video that explains the process. (It’s a detailed process, but the video makes it as simple as possible.) Here are the main points to discuss with your child: Corn is ground to a fine consistency, and then water and enzymes are added. This mixture (called “mash”) is heated. The corn breaks down to become fermentable sugars, and then it is cooled. Next, yeast is added. The yeast eats the sugar in a process called fermentation. 

Fermentation is a chemical breakdown, or change, that happens in vegetable and animal substances. The result is that carbon dioxide gas is released. (source) The bi-product of this process is alcohol. The alcohol is heated again and again in a distillery, which creates alcohol vapor. The gas is converted back into liquid, which eventually is converted into ethanol. 

How can we make this more hands-on? Let’s try this experiment. It will take about an hour to see the full results, so set it up and move onto activity 3. We also wrote out the instructions here:


  • a glass or plastic bottle
  • a balloon
  • sugar (3 teaspoons) 
  • active yeast (1 packet or 2 ¼ teaspoons)
  • a funnel
  • warm water


Add all ingredients to the bottle using the funnel. Mix well. Cover with the balloon and let sit for up to an hour. Note: We suggest setting up one bottle with 3 teaspoons of sugar instead of setting up all four bottles. For our purposes, all four aren’t necessary.

Results: The yeast will release gases that will blow up the balloon. This experiment helps us to “see” the gases being released!

Activity 3: Math application. We are going to learn the parts of a circle as we make tortillas. Begin by watching this Math Antics video about circles. Use this free download a printable manipulative. (You only need to print page 4.)

Before you begin, review with your child the definitions of:

  • Circumference: The distance around the outside of a circle.
  • Radius: The distance from the center of the circle to the outside edge.
  • Diameter: A straight line passing through the center of a circle.
  • Chord: A straight line joining two points of the circle. 
  • Arc: A section of the circumference.


Try as many of these applications as you can as you cook:

  • As you make your tortillas, use a ruler to measure the diameter. The recipe says they should measure 6 inches or about 15 centimeters. 
  • Use this opportunity to also measure the radius. Ask your child: “What do you think the radius will measure if the radius is half the diameter?” 
  • This is also a good time to discuss estimations. Is it necessary to measure each tortilla? Probably not. Once you have measured one or two, you will probably be able to tell when it is too small just by looking at it. This is called estimating.
  • Are you using a tortilla press? If you were with us for the Ancient Egypt Unit, we learned about levers and how simple machines make work easier. The tortilla is a lever. Try mashing the tortilla dough by pressing down on the top plate by hand. Continue using your own strength and weight to press the tortilla as flat as possible. Next, use the lever to mash down the next tortilla. Was it easier to get it flat using the lever? Why? You have experienced the power of the lever! It’s so much easier to flatten the dough using the lever than it is pressing it down by hand.

Once your lesson is over, watch this video as a review. End your lesson by reading Sir Cumference and the First Round Table while enjoying your tortillas with salsa or guacamole. 

(+)Activity 4: More math! If your child is ready to learn the formulas for finding the area and the circumference of a circle, try this upgrade. First, watch this Math Antics video. Next, listen to this song. You can also include the story Sir Cumference and the Dragon of Pi to reinforce the lesson. Now that you know how to find the area and circumference, find the area and circumference of your tortilla. 

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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.

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