How to construct a Mayan temple using arts & crafts for kids

Written by shannon johnson
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How to construct a Mayan temple using arts & crafts for kids
The temple of Tikal in Guatemala is one of the most famous Maya sites. (Getty creative)

The Mayans were masters of architecture and mathematics, creating lasting monuments of skill and design, reaching toward the heavens from the Central American rainforest floor. Mayan temples were carefully constructed from native limestone, layer upon layer and block by hand-cut block. To re-create these amazing feats of design, you just need some time and easy-to-find craft supplies. Simply follow these directions to create a model pyramid.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • Craft knife
  • Newspaper
  • Papier mache paste
  • Craft glue
  • Acrylic craft paint
  • Play sand
  • Photo of temple (reference)
  • Cardboard box (at least 75 cm by 75 cm (2.5 by 2.5 feet))
  • Dowel (long enough to extend through all the layers of your pyramid)
  • About 20 square metres (209 square feet) of 2.5- to 5-cm (1- to 2-inch) thick expanded polystyrene

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  1. 1

    Start by cutting a 60-cm (24-inch) square to serve as the bottom level of your temple. Cut the next square 5 cm (2 inches) shorter (55 by 55 cm). Cut subsequent layers in the same manner, 50 by 50, 45 by 45, 40 by 40 and so on, until you have eight to 10 levels.

  2. 2

    Once all your pyramid levels are cut, assemble the pyramid from the bottom up, stacking the layers from largest on the bottom to smallest on top, leaving an even inch border on the layers as they rise. Once you've reached the next to top layer, poke the dowel through the centre of the pyramid, leaving about 2.5 to 4 cm (1 to 1.5 inches) exposed. Center the top layer on the pyramid, inserting the dowel into the bottom so the entire pyramid stays together.

  3. 3

    Rip the newspaper into strips to mache to the foam pyramid. You may need lots of newspaper to cover the entire pyramid, so plan ahead, and cut enough strips to cover the entire construction. You do not want to run out of paper while applying the mache.

  4. 4

    Mix the papier mache paste as instructed on the mix. Dip the strips quickly into the paste and then layer onto the pyramid, starting from the bottom up. Make certain to cover the entire exterior; there should be no foam showing once you are done.

  5. 5

    While the pyramid dries, cut your cardboard box open, leaving at least a 75 by 75 cm (2.5-by-2.5-foot) square to serve as the "ground" under your pyramid. Use the sides to cut four strips, 15 cm (6 inches) each, and approximately 60 cm (24 inches) long. You will use these strips to create stair ramps for your pyramid.

  6. 6

    After the pyramid has dried, cut the 15-by-60 cm (6-by-24-inch) sections into 12.5-mm (1/2-inch) wide strips along the long edge. Using craft glue, adhere the strips to the middle of each side, starting at the bottom and working your way up. The ramps should rise similarly up the side of your pyramid as the original limestone Mayan temple in your reference photo. You can cover these ramps with papier mache if you choose.

  7. 7

    Using your craft paint and play sand, create a thick mixture and paint the entire structure and ramp. You can give a more textured look to the pyramid by mixing multiple colours of paint and sand and layering the finish. You can also use a dry brush to lightly tap different colours over the dried sand paint to give the temple a weathered look.

Tips and warnings

  • Other texture and weathering effects that will give your temple an authentic look include painting the temple steps a shade or two darker so they have depth. Mayans also were known for using mica and other reflective minerals in their architecture, so you can include mica powder in your sand mix, or liberally sprinkle/spray glitter onto your finished pyramid while the paint is still damp enough for it to stick.

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