Mayans History for Kids

Mayan Numbers for Kids
November 4, 2017 – 12:59 pm
National Geographic Kids

Mayan Number System For KidsMemorizing times tables is one thing. Strengthening conceptual math skills is another. One way to strengthen your child’s conceptual math skills is to explore Mayan numbers together. Exploring the Mayan numeric system will heighten your child’s understanding of symbol, place value and base, and inspire greater recognition of how our own (Arabic) number system works. One extraordinary advantage to this activity is that once you catch on, there’s no end to the variety of games you can play.

If your child is old enough to read or write numbers, she’s old enough to have fun with this activity.

Despite what it may look like, the Mayan numeric system is pretty simple.

The Mayans use three symbols: a dot, a bar and a zero.
– The dot (originally a pebble) represents one.
– The bar (originally a stick) represents five.
– The zero (originally a shell) represents zero.

You can use things from around the house as you explore the system with your child. I used a Cheerio, a crayon and a partially flattened roll of masking tape (which I turned blue and shrunk down using a photo editor) to make the images that appear in this article.

Mayan numbers 0-9 are pretty straight forward. What’s interesting is that from the beginning you can see that the symbols contain mathematical operations. The number two is represented as 1+1. The number three is represented as 1+1+1. The number four is represented as 1+1+1+1. The number six is represented as 5+1. The number seven is represented as 5+2, etc. You can see how simply working with numbers 0-9 can strengthen the math skills of children learning to count.

The numbers 10-19 are also pretty straight forward. Essentially you have 5+5=10, 5+5+1=11, 5+5+2=12, etc. If the symbols for 0-9 make sense, the numbers 10-19 should offer no surprises.

Starting with the number 20 the Mayan system can seem a little tricky. That’s because we’re accustomed to place value in a base 10 system. Take the number 23, for example. There are two place values: tens and ones. The 2 is in the tens place. It tells us to multiply 2×10. The 3 is in the ones place. It tells us to multiply 3×1. In other words: (2×10)+(3×1)=23.

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