Welcome to the new Jaguar Stones collection of Maya teaching resources, researched and compiled by J&P Voelkel. We know how hard it is to find reliable, up-to-date information about the ancient Maya, and we’ve listened to teachers’ requests for more deep dives into specific topics. We hope you’ll find these lesson plans and projects informative, inspiring and easy-to-use in your classroom.
These new pages include a unique comparative timeline, setting Maya history in the context of Britain and the rest of the world. There are also new lesson plans for classes using the Jaguar Stones books in their Maya unit, and an exciting new Virtual Author Visit that captures all the sneakily- educational fun of our in-person school visits.
If you have any questions, please head to our Teacher’s Chatroom to get answers fast on anything Maya-related. We’re here to help!
J&P Voelkel take their book research seriously. They’ve visited over sixty Maya sites in Central America, canoed underground rivers, explored the rainforest, and talked with modern Maya people of all ages. Jon studied Maya glyphs at Harvard, they both took a course with NASA on Maya astronomy, they work closely with archaeologists and regularly attend Maya conferences. They’ve presented at the Boston Museum of Science, the Franklin Institute, the Mint Museum and The New York Public Library, as well as many book festivals and conferences.
Contact us through the , or email
The long and short answer to “Why the Maya?”
(Some words from the heart by J&P)
Teachers often ask why we’re so interested in the Maya - and why we work so hard on our Maya-themed educational resources, only to give them away free. The short answer is that it’s the least we can do. For a start, we know it’s not easy for teachers to find reliable facts about the Maya, because we remember how hard it was for us when we started researching Middleworld. Many of the canon textbooks are out of date now, and there’s so much nonsense about the Maya on the Internet, it’s hard to separate fact from fiction. But the real turning point for us happened on our first research trip to Guatemala, many years ago.
We were exploring a site called Yaxha with a local guide, when a group of Maya teenagers started following us. It turned out they wanted selfies with our son who’s very tall by Guatemalan standards. (They also took photos of his size 14 feet.) Our guide watched for a while, then stepped forward and made a speech in Spanish: “Yes, remember these people,” he said, “but not because their son is tall. Remember them because they’re writing a book about you - and soon, children in the United States will be reading about your history and your culture.” The gum-chewing, hoodie-wearing Maya teens stared at us in surprise for a moment, then burst into applause.
We were horrified. Our plan had been simply to write an exciting adventure set in the jungles of the Maya. Now we were suddenly being tasked with something much bigger - to tell a story that would honor those kids at Yaxha. Worse still, we knew our guide was right. The fact is that the Maya have been exploited, lied about, and oppressed ever since the first European explorers arrived on their shores. They didn’t need us adding to the pile on. So however well-meaning our intentions, we knew our first job was to get our facts straight. We ended up learning to read and write Maya glyphs, befriending archaeologists, hanging out at digs, studying Maya astronomy with NASA, getting to know modern Maya people, even doing school visits in the mountains of Chiapas. We’ve been helped by so many people and had so many amazing experiences, it seems only fair to pass on the knowledge we’ve acquired.
Above all, we want to share the one glaring truth that shines out of our research: namely, that the Ancient Maya were incredible - and every bit as deserving of in-depth study as the Ancient Greeks.
For example, when our kids were in fourth grade at our local school here in Vermont, they spent a whole semester on the Greeks. Not just in Social Studies, where they learned about the origins of democracy, but in every subject and with every teacher. In Art, they constructed temples and painted vases. In English, they read myths and legends, held debates and recitations. In Math, they studied the great mathematicians and learned Greek numbers. In Sport, they held their own Olympic Games. Every morning, they donned their homemade chitons and laurel wreaths, and headed off for another day in their polis. At the end, parents were invited to a dazzling celebration. There was a market selling homemade products from the different regions, a performance of dance and oratory, a historic dramatization, an art display, and a buffet loaded with homemade dishes like hummus and spanakopita. It was magnificent.
Inspired by that Greek unit, we want to help teachers construct a cross-curricular unit around the Ancient Maya. Even if they can’t spare a whole semester, we want to put the resources out there. Just like the Greeks, the Maya had the math, the myths, the architecture, the engineering, the trade, the politics, the inventions, the sport, the astronomy, the glorious art. They were one of the most advanced ancient civilizations the world has ever seen and they were right here, in the Americas. What Amerigo Vespucci termed Mundus Novus, the new world, was actually a very, very old world. Moreover, thanks to the exponential recent progress in archaeology, we now have a much clearer picture of how the ancient Maya lived. So there’s no longer a need for teachers to concentrate on ancient Europe at the expense of indigenous culture.
Why do we feel so strongly about this? For Pamela, perhaps it’s because she went to school in England and was taught only European history. She cringes to remember, years later when she was working in a London advertising agency, accepting without question the myth that the Maya vanished overnight - and using it as a fun hook for a car promotion. Even Jon, who grew up in Latin America, had only a hazy knowledge of the people who built those towering pyramids in the rainforest. Now that we both know better, it feels only right to be creating educational resources for today’s schoolchildren - so they’ll know better too.
We still often think about those teenagers at Yaxha, especially as one of them inspired the character of Lola in The Jaguar Stones books. We know we have a lot more to learn to make them proud of us, but we hope they’d approve of our work so far. One thing’s for sure: wherever our Maya studies take us, we’ll use this website to bring teachers along on the journey.
(That’s Yukatec Mayan for “Let’s go!”)