Mayan Calendar Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Angela Burke

Angela has over ten years of teaching experience in Special Education, classroom teaching and GT. She has a master's degree in Special Ed with an emphasis in Gifted.

This lesson will introduce you to the incredible Maya calendars that helped an ancient civilization track time. You will learn why the calendars were important to the Mayas and how they were used.

Developing a Calendar

How would know what day of the week or month of the year it was if you didn't have a calendar? Would you know what day your birthday was? How about important holidays? Calendars help us keep track of time, but did you know that the Mayas, an ancient civilization, developed one the most accurate calendar systems of all time?

Who Were the Mayans?

The Mayas lived in Mesoamerica, or Middle America, known today as Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, El Salvador and Mexico. This ancient civilization is known for its art, mathematical system, architecture, and writing as well as knowledge of astronomy and calendars!

Although people from America are called Americans and people from Europe are called Europeans, the Maya people aren't called Mayans, even though that's what many people call them today. The word 'Mayan' only refers to the language spoken by the Maya people. Another name for the language spoken by the Maya is Maaya.

If you were to travel through time to visit a Maya village, you would find homes made of poles and plastered earth, with thatched roofs of palm leaves. You might see an outdoor kitchen with corn tortillas cooking on a hearth, or beans and squash simmering in clay pots. And if you were lucky enough, you might arrive in time for a monthly religious celebration, festival or banquet!

Yes, religion and agriculture, or farming, were important to the Mayas. Maybe that's why they made two calendars for these important life practices.

The Mayan Calendars

The Mayas had three separate calendars, but they could all be used at the same time! The Mayas had a writing system consisting of signs, or glyphs. Each month of the calendar had its own unique glyph.

Mayan Glyphs representing months of the calendar
Mayan glyphs

The first calendar was created for religious purposes and consisted of 260 days. The shaman, or spiritual leader similar to a priest, would decide the luckiest dates for religious events and ceremonies to occur.

The second calendar, most similar to our own, had a 360-day cycle that aligned with the sun. This calendar helped the farmers to know when to plant crops.

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