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Mayan Culture: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Jennifer Lowery

Jennifer has taught elementary levels K-3 and has master's degrees in elementary education and curriculum/instruction and educational leadership.

Many people in today's Mexico and Central America are ancestors of the ancient Mayan civilization. In this lesson, learn about different aspects of the Mayans, including their writing, religion, buildings, and what they did for fun.

Ancient Civilization

Let's travel back in time thousands of years to learn about the ancient Mayans. This group of people settled in areas of Mexico and Central America. They had a very special culture and it lives on today with their ancestors. Let's explore different aspects of the ancient Mayan culture including their religion, inventions, and ways they had fun.

Religious Beliefs

Do you ever look at the sky and wonder what lies beyond the clouds? So did the Mayans. They believed that there were three different parts to the universe: the sky, the Earth, and an underworld filled with water. Their religion was polytheistic, which means that they believed in many gods and goddesses. They believed that these gods and goddesses lived in the sky.

Many of the gods and goddesses were in charge of things that happened on Earth, including rain and lightning. Caves were seen as openings to the underworld below the Earth and were often used for religious ceremonies and to bury the dead.

Government

While the gods and goddesses lived in the sky, the Mayans thought their kings on Earth were almost as amazing as gods. Different Mayan cities were ruled by one leader. Many times, this power was transferred within a family. If you were the son of a king, then you would probably get to be king one day yourself!

This is the mask of a Mayan king, who was the god-like leader of an ancient Mayan city.
king mask

Writing & Art

Mayans used symbols called hieroglyphs to create an ancient writing system. These symbols were painted on cave walls and were used to keep records of things like seasons. This helped the Mayans decide when it was the right time to plant certain crops.

They also kept records of the gods and goddesses that were important to them, especially those that controlled the Sun and Moon. After watching the skies and recording what they saw, the Mayans created a calendar. It was very innovative and kept track of small units of time, like days, and larger units, like years.

Gods and goddesses also influenced ancient Mayan art, which included paintings, sculptures, and pottery. Large paintings called murals were often created on the walls of temples and palaces. The Mayans also made jewelry and carvings out of copper and a gemstone called jade.

Mayan art included large painted murals, sculptures, and carvings made out of jade.
ancient art

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