Posts Tagged ‘ Aztecs Incas and Mayans Unit ’

The History of Chocolate from the Mayans and Aztecs… to Today!

Friday, June 15th, 2012

Did you know that more than $90 billion a year is spent on chocolate around the world?  On Valentine’s American spend around $700 million on chocolate! These numbers are expected to grow as the population increases and the number of people in the developing world who can afford chocolate increases.

Part of our study of the Mayans and Aztecs was to learn a bit more about the history of chocolate.  Here’s a bit of background:

*We know that the Olmecs, Mayans and Aztecs all consumed chocolate. The earliest record of humans consuming chocolate is from about 1,500 years ago. We know from Mayan art that they consumed chocolate, even using it in their religious ceremonies.  The Aztecs (1200 A.D.) also consumed chocolate, though they traded for cacao seeds rather than growing the trees themselves. In time the cacao seeds became a kind of money.  People paid for many goods with cacao seeds. A turkey egg cost 3 beans; a feather cape cost 1,000 beans. Money really did grow on trees!

*Montezuma is said to have drunk more than 50 cups of chocolate a day!

*The Spanish Prince Philip added sugar cane to chocolate — for sweetened chocolate. The Spanish guarded the secret of chocolate for nearly 100 years before other European countries discovered chocolate.

*By the 1700s cacao and sugar were major crops. Slaves were captured and sent to work on sugar and cacao plantations by the hundreds of thousands.

*During the time of George Washington chocolate was most often enjoyed as a beverage. We got to see the chocolate-making process in a living history display when we took a trip down to Mt. Vernon last December.

*The first solid chocolate candy appeared in England in 1847.

*In the 1890s Milton Hershey began to bring chocolate to the American public in a large-scale way.

*Today the Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria and Cameroon produce 70% of the world’s cocoa supply.

*The coca tree is very susceptible to pests and fungal infections. In 1988 one region in Brazil saw its production fall by 80% when the fungal disease, witch’s broom, was found in the area. Another even more devastating disease, pod rot, threatens trees in Latin America and Brazil.  Experts worry what would happen if these diseases were spread to West Africa. West Africa has faced threats from the cocoa swollen shoot virus and plants in Southeast Asia are under threat from a moth called the cocoa pod borer. Because of the limited genetic variation, the cacao trees have little natural resilience to pests and disease. Climate change also appears to be affecting growing conditions. [For more on this, see Scientific American's Feb. 2012 article, "The Future of Chocolate."]

 This past week, we started by reading a couple of books about the history of chocolate.  I read Chocolate Riches from the Rainforest aloud to the kids.  The kids really loved Chocolate A Sweet History (they read it themselves) and kept reciting facts they had learned from it aloud. We never got to the third book.

Finally, finally the moment arrived when we opened the “Make Your Own Chocolate Kit.”

LD (my 8 year old) did the entire process himself with a bit of help from ED. We decided to use a double boiler. He melted the cocoa butter, added the powders, stirred, watched the clock til it all cooled and spooned the mixture into the paper cups.  The kit made about 15 chocolates (which were delicious) but I only remembered to take a picture when five were left!!

There are a number of Chocolate Unit Studies and Lapbooks out there if you are interested. For example, I’ve heard good things about the free chocolate unit study at Homeschool Share.  We didn’t do any lapbook work this past week, but I wanted to be sure to mention it in case you wanted to add that into your studies!  That unit has things like chocolate math, chocolate fractions, chocolate adjectives and more. Yum!

I hope you have a great weekend! ~Liesl

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Aztecs and Incas

Monday, June 11th, 2012

Last week we started a unit about the Aztec and Incas. This is a unit I’ve had ready for more than a year (books gathered, maps and sheets printed and ready for use). LD and DD insisted we dive in (in part because they knew we’d study the history of chocolate along with it!).

We started out with a look at the Aztecs. We read this lovely story about the founding of the Aztec capital, the arrival of Cortez and the troubles that followed. I highly recommend this book even if you don’t do an entire unit on the Aztecs: The Sad Night: The Story of an Aztec Victory and Spanish Loss.

We added a number of pages to our history notebooks. (The kids have 3-ringed notebooks where they keep lapbook type pages, maps, coloring, worksheets and so forth.) We used history pockets from the Teacher Filebox (I got mine at a group rate from homeschool buyers coop), plus other sources that I had on hand. We all really enjoyed Growing up in Aztec Times which had a lot of good information.  What I loved about the work we did was that ED (age 4) was right in the middle of things! She labeled every country on the South America map too–I told her letter by letter what to write and kept asking if she was done. She insisted on filling in the entire sheet!

We reviewed the countries and capitals of South America. We sang along to  Rock the Capitals, South America several times again last week.

We read the book, Secret of the Andes, over the course of the week. Cusi, a modern Inca boy, leaves his home high in the Andes mountains, to learn about his birth and his people’s ancient glory.

The reviews about this book on Amazon are quite mixed. This is definitely not a fast paced book, but the images it evoked were really lovely. We stopped a lot to look at some of the things that were talked about in the book — the frail-looking, swinging rope bridge that swayed as he made his way above the rapids below. We looked at pictures of llamas, the condor, Machu Pichu and things like that on wikimedia commons. For us this book was really a terrific jumping off point.

See our study of the Ancient Mayan Civilization by clicking on this link here.

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