Mesoamerica Unit Study: Week 4

For our final week of Mesoamerica, we’ll be looking at several ways our modern culture has been impacted by these ancient cultures. As you learn, take the opportunity to help your child draw these connections as you strengthen the skills we’ve been working on all month. Our lessons this week are filled with history and art. And don’t miss the Mexican jumping beans science lesson! Finally, enjoy the delicious recipe that will bring life to the history of limes. Here’s your tracker! Keep track of all the skills you work on, the books you read and the experiments 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.

Terracotta story pot:

Mayan inspired relief:

Mexican jumping bean STEM activity:

(-)Mexican folk art craft:

(+)Mexican folk art craft:

Huipil craft

  • Colored construction paper
  • Crayons or oil pastels
  • Liquid tempera paint
  • Paint brushes
  • Strips of painted paper or colored paper
  • Scissors
  • Optional: paper strips, paper doilies, yarn
    and ribbon
  • White school glue or glue sticks

Ingredients for Lime Soup

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: Discover. We have learned so much about ancient civilizations because of archaeologists. They dig and find artifacts. Most of these end up in museums so that we can observe and learn from them. We have beautiful Mayan artifacts like these at The Met museum. Let’s take a closer look at this painted pot. What do you notice about it? Read the description to learn what archeologists think might have inspired the designs. These artifacts would have been destroyed if the archaeologists weren’t really careful during their excavations. Read pages 32-35 of Honest History to learn about the tools used to excavate. 

Activity 2: Creative writing + art. Now let’s create our own decorated pot based on a story. Have your child create their own myth or story. They can write it out, make a few notes about the general plot, or simply tell you the story out loud. Next, have them “tell” their story through pictures on a terracotta pot by drawing it out. You may want to have them draw their story in pencil first, then use permanent markers to color it in. (If you purchased the wax paint crayons, you can also use these.)

When their story pot is done, talk about the difference in a story told in pictures and one told in words. What is lost when you leave out words? What is added?

Lesson 2:

Activity 1: Read + Discuss. As we discussed in Lesson 1, we learn about ancient civilizations by what has been left behind. Let’s dig a little deeper. Read + Discuss the interview of the archeologist Claire Novotny on pages 36-39 of Honest History. Click on this link to see some of the amazing discoveries archeologist have made.

Activity 2: Among the beautiful artifacts you will find of Mayan origin are the reliefs created hundreds of years ago. Create a Mayan relief with salt dough.

Lesson 3:

The Mexican jumping bean is a natural phenomenon rooted in, obviously, Mexico that continues to delight children and adults today.

Activity 1: Discover. Bring out your Mexican jumping beans and present them to your child. (Tip: Keep yours in a dark, cool place so that they would be still when first introduced to the child.) Share a few facts with your child as they start to observe them:

  • The bean is not really a bean at all but a seed pod.
  • In the spring, adult moths drop their eggs into the flower of the yerba de flecha shrub, which is native to the mountains of northwestern Mexico. The hatched larvae nestle into the plant’s seed pods, which fall off the tree, taking the larvae inside with them.(source)

Print out this observation sheet and ask your child to write down what they observe. (If the beans have been kept in a dark, cool place, they should be still.) Next, place the beans on a sunny window sill and begin reading the book Lucas and His Loco Beans. As you are reading the book, pause when you get to the part of the story when Lucas hears something. Walk over to your beans and ask your child to listen. Are their beans moving yet? If they are, ask them to write down their observations on their sheet. Hold them in your hands. What happens? Have your child write down their observations.

Next, place the beans in a dark room. Continue reading the story to learn more about what is happening. When you have finished reading the story, observe your beans again and record your observations.

Finally, read the back of the book, which explains more about what is happening with our beans.

Activity 2: You can continue the fun with this template and game.

Lesson 4:

Activity 1: Mexican folk art is bright and beautiful. Folk art is handmade by the people and their community, irrespective of class, religion, and gender. Artists need no formal training, and pieces can be practical, decorative, used for religious ceremonies, or simply offered for sale. Some people create their art in their spare time, for artistic pleasure or to create extra income.

“One of the least known, most versatile, and most beautiful expressions of Mexican folk art is hojalata (tin art work), also known in some parts of Mexico as, lamina or lata. Since the 1500’s, this humble metal has been made more pleasing by being shaped, stamped, punched, painted, and cut into a wide variety of decorative and functional artwork.” (source) This blog post talks a little bit more about this special art form and offers a simple craft idea. If that one is too simple, try this one. Here’s more inspiration if you need it. 

Tip: You can also wrap the foil around a piece of cardboard to provide additional structure to your art.

Activity 2: Textiles. The most prevalent and influential aspect of women’s clothing in ancient times is the huipil, which is still prominent in Guatemalan and Mexican culture today. The huipil is a loose rectangular garment with a hole in the middle for the head made from lightweight sheer cotton. The huipil is usually white with colorful cross-stripping and zigzag designs woven into the cloth using the brocade technique still commonly used today. The huipil could be worn loose or tucked into a skirt; this depends on the varying lengths of the huipilHuipils often are used to display one’s religion and/or community affiliation. Different communities tend to have different designs, colors, and lengths as well as particular huipils for ceremonial purposes. (source) Click here to see an example of a huipil. Let’s make our own huipil garment craft.

Activity 3: Music. Musicians during the Mayan period were given a lot of respect. Mayan people, whether rich or poor had deep interest in music. However, a few of the musical instruments could only be used by the rich and so it can be said that music during this period was associated with status. Mayans used a wide range of instruments to create musical tones. (source)

Marimba was an instrument which had a set of wooden bars with resonators. (Click here to see it.) Rain stock was considered to be an important Mayan musical instrument. Flute was a common musical instrument used during that time. Animal shaped flutes known as ocarinas were also a musical instrument.

Next, let’s make your own rain stick with these instructions.

Lesson 5:

Another connection we still have with ancient Mesoamerican cultures is cuisine! Let’s explore some foods that you and your family likely enjoy today that have roots in these native civilizations.

Activity 1: What foods did people eat in Mesoamerica? Review this DK page to learn about some of the foods native to Mesoamerica.

“Locally available produce in pre-colonial times still forms the bedrock for Yucatan food. Tomatoes, turkey, chilis, corn, pumpkins… Original Mayan food, like many world cuisines, has been transformed over the years and has become a fusion. With the oldest Mayan cookbooks dating back only to the 19th century, original recipes are almost impossible to discern – though we can guess based on what ingredients were available, as to which dishes might still be made in a style similar to their pre-colonial days.” (source)

Todays recipe is an example of a popular Mexican dish that fuses native foods with ingredients brought into the region. Limes were brought to North and South America by European explorers. Today limes are a key ingredient in many Mexican dishes and a large part of their export economy. They are also the main ingredient in Lime Soup.

Lime Soup or sopa de lima is among the region’s most famous and delicious dishes. The soup includes many native ingredients, like chilis. Prepare sopa de for your family today.

Note: You can make this recipe a little easier by using ready-made broth (2 liters or 8 ½ cups) and a rotisserie chicken from the grocery store that can easily be shredded and added to your soup.

Activity 2: Are you a fan of chilis and other spicey foods? Watch this video to learn about the science of spicy food.

Activity 3: Math application. Start by teaching your child these conversions:

  • 1 gallon = 4 quarters
  • 1 quart = 2 pints
  • 1 pint = 2 cups

Next, watch this video and then do it yourself. Tell the story while you draw it out. Using empty cartons or bottles and measuring cups, practice making all of these conversions using water.

Our soup recipe involves liquid measurements and can be a good opportunity to practice conversions.

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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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