Mexico Background Information for Teachers and Parents
This page contains information to support educators and families in teaching K-3 students about Mexico. The information is designed to complement the BrainPOP Jr. movie Mexico. It explains the type of content covered in the movie, provides ideas for how teachers and parents can develop related understandings, and suggests how other BrainPOP Jr. resources can be used to scaffold and extend student learning.
Learning about different countries and understanding other cultures and traditions are crucial parts of any social studies curriculum. Most children are familiar with Mexico and know about Mexican cuisine and holidays, such as Día de los Muertos and Cinco de Mayo. Your children may also know a few Spanish words. Celebrate Mexico with your children by learning about its rich and colorful history and traditions.
Mexico is south of the United States and north of Guatemala and Belize. The Pacific Ocean is to the west and the Gulf of Mexico is to the east. Show Mexico on a map or globe and review the cardinal directions. Remind your children that a compass rose is a tool on a map or globe that shows north, south, east, and west. Some compass roses show only one direction and the user must infer the other directions. You may wish to practice using cardinal directions by having your children point to objects or identify landmarks located in different directions. We recommend watching the Reading Maps movie together as a review.
There are over 108 million people who live in Mexico today and it is the 11th most populous country in the world. The official language is Spanish, though there are many dialects spoken in Mexico. Mexico’s history goes back thousands of years and BrainPOP Jr. plans on creating movies that explore Mexico’s ancient civilizations more closely. Your children should be familiar with a few key ancient civilizations, such as the Mayans and the Aztecs. The Mayans first settled in the area that is now Mexico about three thousand years ago. They built palaces for their rulers, temples to worship their gods, and observatories to record the Sun’s movement across the sky. Much of their art, artifacts, and buildings still exist today. The Mayans also had a written language, using glyphs. Over six hundred years ago, the Aztecs settled on an island in Lake Texcoco and built a city they called Tenochtitlán. The Aztecs built an empire, conquering surrounding lands and people. Like the Mayans, the Aztecs built palaces, temples, and pyramids. They fished and farmed, created works of art, and paid for goods using cacao beans and pieces of cloth. Their empire fell in the 1500’s when the Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés invaded the area.
Today Mexican culture has influenced cultures around the world. In addition to contributions to cuisine, Mexico has also given the world different fruits and vegetables. Avocado, tomato, papaya, pineapple, guava, and vanilla beans originally come from Mexico. The Aztecs made a sacred drink using cacao beans, which we now use to make chocolate. Many words in English have Spanish origins and your children can easily identify Spanish words to their English counterparts, as in cafetería/cafeteria, barbacoa/barbeque, and cucaracha/cockroach. Other Spanish loan words include, tomate/tomato, vainilla/vanilla, and huracán/hurricane. Remind your children that an accent placed over a letter means to emphasize that syllable. Encourage your children to find examples of Spanish loan words by looking in a dictionary or asking Spanish-speaking friends.
Your children may be familiar with Mexican holidays and their traditions. Día de los Muertos is a holiday celebrated not only in Mexico, but also in other Latin American and South American countries. The holiday is usually observed on November 1st and it honors dead ancestors. People don costumes and celebrate together with friends and family. Some create shrines for the deceased and offer gifts and light candles. People eat pan de muerto, or “bread of the dead” in honor of the holiday. Mexican Independence Day is celebrated September 15th and 16th. It commemorates the day when Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla demanded freedom for Mexico from Spanish rulers. Families and friends eat and spend time together and watch fireworks. Many students get Mexican Independence Day confused with Cinco de Mayo. Celebrated on the fifth of May, Cinco de Mayo commemorates the day when members of the Mexican militia protected a fort in Puebla, Mexico from the French army. In the United States, Cinco de Mayo is a more prominent holiday than it is in Mexico.
Encourage your children to learn more about Mexico and think of ways the Mexican culture has influenced their own. Learning about different cultures helps your children appreciate diversity and gives the opportunity to learn different traditions and words in other languages and understand that histories and cultures are connected.