The Mayan Calendar

Contributor: Brian Anthony. Lesson ID: 12612

You probably have calendars in your home, in your wallet, on your computer and maybe even on your watch. How would you like to carry a 25-ton calendar around? Be grateful you are not an ancient Mayan!


World, World Cultures

learning style
personality style
Otter, Golden Retriever
Grade Level
Middle School (6-8)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

Audio: Image - Button Play
Image - Lession Started Image - Button Start

Suppose you had to check a date on this calendar. How would you start?

Do you know what year you are living in right now?

This lesson is being written in the year 2017.

  • Where did that number come from, and who decided?

As it turns out, there are many ways to tell time. The many cultures of the world came up with many different kinds of calendars, and they created them for various reasons. Nowadays, people use calendars to plan things — they can check their calendars to see if they have any important appointments coming up and can plot out their vacation days well in advance. In ancient times, calendars were often used for even more important purposes, like keeping the balance of the universe by performing rituals on time!

Learn more about the types of calendars through the short reading below.* As you read, write down the answers to the following questions in your notebook or journal:

  • What are the three major types of calendars?
  • What heavenly body or bodies does each one use to measure time?
  • Which cultures use each type?

*Now, read this short passage and answer the questions:

Most calendars are based on astronomy. That is, people observed the movements of the sun, moon, stars, planets, and other heavenly bodies. They noticed patterns and cycles repeating themselves time and again. This led to the creation of three major types of calendars: solar, lunar, and lunisolar.

A solar calendar is a calendar that measures the passage of time against the movement of the sun. Now, you may say that it is we who are moving and the sun is standing still. But to ancient people, it didn't look that way. There are 365.242 days in a solar calendar. The Gregorian calendar, the one used in the U.S., Europe, and much of the rest of the world today, is a solar calendar.

The second type of calendar is a lunar calendar. Can you guess which heavenly body it uses to measure time? It is the moon. The lunar month begins when the first sliver of the moon crescent is sighted and ends when the last crescent of the moon disappears. Lunar years are shorter at just about 354 days. Lunar months occur about 11 days earlier each year. The Islamic Hijri calendar is one example of a lunar calendar.

The third type of calendar, the lunisolar, is a mix of the first two. It follows lunar months, but adds in an additional month from time to time to even things out with the solar year. The Hebrew and Chinese calendars are examples of lunisolar calendars.

When you are finished collecting your information from the reading, reflect on the following question and record your response in your notebook or journal:

  • Which of these calendar systems do you think is most “accurate” and why?

One of the most mysterious and interesting of all the calendars in the world is the Mayan calendar.

Move on to the Got It? section, where you will collect more information about the Mayan calendar.

Image - Button Next

Elephango's Philosophy

We help prepare learners for a future that cannot yet be defined. They must be ready for change, willing to learn and able to think critically. Elephango is designed to create lifelong learners who are ready for that rapidly changing future.