Mayan children grew up with parents who wanted their early childhood years to be carefree. Children lived with their extended families in nalil, which were clusters of huts. In this environment, they were surrounded by adults and cousins of various ages.
In the average Mayan family, older family members soon became teachers to the children in the nalil. Most importantly, children were taught respect for their elders. Girls and boys learned the skills they needed to be successful in their culture. A boy’s father and other male family members showed him how to fish and hunt. If a hut needed to be built or a canoe repaired, the boy participated and learned another valuable skill. Sons of craftsmen learned their trade from their father.
Like many other ancient cultures, Mayan girls learned skills that differed greatly from boys. Girls were taught how to cook, weave, and perform other household tasks. Girls did learn some tasks outside the home, however. For example, they were expected to learn how to barter at the local market.
Both girls and boys were taught the Mayan religious traditions. Priests instructed children about the various gods. After a basic introduction to their religious traditions, priests also taught children how to perform ceremonial dances.
Children of nobles received more intellectual instruction. They studied astronomy and learned to read the hieroglyphs. Sports were considered important for boys to master. Regardless of their social status, boys and girls were taught separately from one another until they knew their duties well enough to marry.