Mesoamerica: Week 2

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. Have you tried our trackers? It will help you keep track of the books you will read and the projects you will do. Click here to download the tracker for week 2.

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.

Aztec mask craft:

Aztec clay craft:

Gold mining activity:

Quetzal craft option #1:

Quetzal craft option #2:

Aztec hot chocolate:

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:

Today’s lessons are all about the Aztec empire.

Activity 1: Research + Discover. Read Usborne World History page 278-279 for an overview of the Aztec Empire. Next, read the Aztec creation myth The Musician of the Sun.

Activity 2: Learn + Make – The Aztec Mask. What were masks used for? Aztec masks were used as ornaments and were sometimes worn as part of a ritual or in death as a death mask. They usually represented one god or another. The Aztecs worshipped gods collected from a variety of cultures. A common type of mask would have snakes on it, a representation of the god Quetzalcoatl or perhaps Tialoc, the rain god, and would be used for worship of the gods, whether by being displayed in a temple or worn by a priest. A death mask usually had closed eyes and an open mouth. They were intended for nobles to wear after death or were displayed in memory of the deceased. (Source

Let’s make our own mask! We are going to modify this mask project and simplify it a bit. Pull up this image from the British Museum as a sample. 

Instructions

  1. Create a mask mold using crumpled newspaper and masking tape. Once you have a face shape, wrap it with two layers of masking tape. Alternatively you can start with a plastic mask.
  2. Cut paper into 1 inch strips.
  3. Using Mod Podge, attach the strips over the mask.
  4. Cut out colored tissue paper into 1-inch squares, or tiles.
  5. Attach the “tiles” onto the mask with Mod Podge, creating a face.
  6. Cover the entire mask in more Mod Podge and allow to dry.

(-) If you aren’t feeling crafty today, you could instead cut out the Maya Jade Mask in the back of Amazing Ancients magazine.

Lesson 2:

Let’s take a closer look at the history of the Aztecs and how it affected their culture.

Activity 1: Read + Discuss the story A Sad Night: The Story of An Aztec Victory and a Spanish Loss. This picture book will provide many opportunities for discussion about the Aztec culture but also colonialism. Discuss the topics as they come up in the reading instead of reading it through all at once.

Activity 2: Create an Aztec clay craft. 

Lesson 3:

All that glitters…is Aztec gold? Let’s learn more about this valuable resource and its importance to the Aztecs.

Activity 1: Aztecs and the Importance of Gold. Here are a few facts to share with your child:

  • Only the emperor was qualified to give gifts in the form of gold, often to the rulers in the region to maintain peace and to the brave soldiers who protected the territory. 
  • The precious metal only became useful to individuals when worked into jewelry or some other spiritual images. The main use of gold in the ancient Aztec society was for personal adornment. Many items are unmistakably jewelry pieces, although some encapsulated complex religious iconography. 
  • The second most essential use of the precious metal was funerary—to respect productive members of the society and to recognize their status even in death. The offering of gold articles to the divine beings was also a typical practice among the Aztecs. 
  • Gold was also an important part of home decorations for the royals. In fact, many early explorers discovered whole rooms of the illustrious royal residences of the Aztecs decorated using gold and silver. 
  • The Aztecs used different methods to mine their gold. The most common method was by placer mining, in which sand from the river bed washed in a special container, causing the gold particles (which have a higher density) to settle at the base. ” (source + click for pictures)

Activity 2: Discover. Where do people find gold? Gold is found in rocks throughout the world. In most cases, the amount of gold is so small that it is not visible. It is therefore not easy to get it out of the rock. Gold is often found in rock that also has copper and lead. In the process of extracting these elements, the gold is also extracted. In certain areas, gold can be found in larger deposits. These occur where the surrounding rock has been worn or washed away over the years. The gold is sometimes washed into streams or rivers, where it can be seen. This may be how the earliest peoples first found gold.(Source)

Activity 3: Gold mining activity. Use this as your inspiration for today’s activity.

Supplies:

How to set up:

Prepare a kiddy pool or large tub with dirt or sand, water, and gold nuggets. Mix together well. Poke holes into an aluminum pan large enough for water and sand to go through but smaller than the nugget.

Now, go find gold! Ask your children to pan for “gold” using the aluminum pan to sift through the dirt and sand.

Lesson 4:

The quetzal bird was extremely important in the Aztec culture and legends. Let’s learn more about it!

Activity 1: Discover. Learn about the Quetzal bird by reading this article out loud together. Next, watch this video.

Activity 2: Pick either this quetzal craft or this one for today’s craft.

Activity 3: Read this retelling of the quetzal bird legend.

Activity 4: Read + Discuss this poem by Robert Gibb. Review any new vocabulary. Practice copywork – ask your child to copy their favorite stanza from the poem. It might be easier to print the copy so that the child can have it on paper in front of them. Older children may want to copy more than one stanza.

***To learn more about why copywork is an effective method of teaching writing skills, read this blog post by one of our Charlotte Mason expert contributors.

Lesson 5:

We’ll end our week by exploring some of the food history of Mesoamerica.

Activity 1: The History of Cacao in Mesoamerica.

A lot of today’s favorite foods were developed in the ancient Mayan world. For instance, the Mayas were the first to take out the seeds of cacao and toast them to make hot chocolate. But they didn’t make M&Ms or Snickers bars, nor did they add milk or sugar to make the cacao taste sweeter. Instead, they drank their chocolate straight as part of religious ceremonies. The Mayas saw cacao as a sacred fruit sent to them by the gods and even used it as currency. 🍫 When the Spaniards got to Central America, they adapted the drink and added sugar and milk to make it taste better. (source)

Read the story The Chocolate Tree (A Mayan Folktale).

Activity 2: What’s the science of chocolate? Watch this video to learn about our modern day chocolate. (Feel free to cut the video off when your child loses interest. It’s over five minutes long and gets a little technical about the chemistry make up of chocolate near the end.)

Activity 3: Through the years, recipes have emerged and evolved to create the chocolate we know and love today. Try this modern version of Aztek hot chocolate. Tip: We added extra chocolate (200g) for a richer, creamier version and some chili powder to give it an extra kick.

Activity 4: Math application. It is often the case when we cook that we need to do some measurement conversions. Use this chart as you prepare your hot chocolate and look for ways to make the math come to life. For example, are you using chocolate that is measured in ounces? Are you measuring your milk with cups or milliliters? If using a measuring cup with both U.S. measurements and Metric System measurements, discuss the conversions. For example you can say: “We have measured 2 cups of milk. How many milliliters is that equivalent to?” 

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Published by learnandliveletter

The Learn + Live Letter is a play- and project-based homeschool curriculum for children ages 3-11.

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