Chinese New Year Celebrations
Create puppets, make traditional food, perform dragon dances, and celebrate with other fun activities perfect for Chinese New Year festivities!
- Grades: 1–2, 3–5
- Unit Plan:
Students prepare the previous week to celebrate Chinese New Year.
In addition to the celebration on the first day of Chinese New Year, there is the Lantern Festival, which comes on the 15th day of the Lunar New Year. The highlight of Lantern Festival is the Dragon Dance. In the United States, the Dragon Dance is scheduled for a weekend and is usually less than two weeks after the first day of the New Year.
- Assist in planning and preparing for the celebration.
- Work together cooperatively in small and large groups.
- Have fun!
See each activity for its necessary materials.
Set Up and Prepare
Traditionally one’s house is cleaned for the New Year. Enlist all the students in cleaning up the classroom: sweeping, spraying glass cleaner on desks, tidying bookshelves, and hanging up their coats and backpacks. People dress up so it’s our class custom to wear red shirts on Chinese New Year. I let parents know ahead of time about our plans in my weekly newsletter so they can help at home and in the classroom.
Here are a few activities for Chinese New Year. You may want to start small and add additional activities each year.
1. "Fu" Good Luck Sign for Door
The symbol "fu", good luck, when hung upside down means "the luck has arrived." It is displayed on a red square turned diagonally.
- Oak tag, cut into 6-inch squares
- Red marker
- Black permanent marker
- Gold metallic pen
- Yarn for hanging
- Get the symbol at chinapage.com or find one on a door of a Chinese restaurant.
- Make a sample to show students. From the sample make a tracing pattern of the character.
- Trace the character onto oak tag. This simplifies the activity for children.
- Show sample and explain that the character will be hung upside down.
- Have children color and attach yarn for hanging. While they are working, I read books about China aloud.
2. Large Dragon for Dragon Dance
If there is only one thing you can do, this is it! It's so much fun!
- Red poster board for dragon head
- Additional poster board to make feet for dragon
- Metallic pipe cleaners, sequins, and string for decorating the dragon
- Yards of colorful cloth, enough so most children can fit under the dragon
- Optional: We borrow large cymbals, and a variety of drums and other percussion instruments from the music teacher for musicians who dance along with dragon.
- Our art teacher helps with this project. Construction takes place during several art classes. When planning big projects like this, it's helpful to enlist other teachers as well as parents.
- Once the dragon head is complete, we staple on cloth and practice with the dragon. Some children don't want to be inside the dragon and those students are the musicians.
- On the day we celebrate, we parade around the entire school in and out of classrooms.
3. Banners Around the Classroom Door
- Red bulletin board paper cut into long, narrow strips
- Black permanent marker
- Gold metallic pen
- Get examples of door banners, chun lian, on chinapage.com.
- Decide if you will use Chinese characters or write spring poems in English.
- If you use characters, sketch them on red paper ahead of time.
- If you write in English, students can do the writing.
4. Red Envelopes for New Year's Wishes
It's traditional that children receive red envelopes with money from their parents or grandparents. We write notes with Happy New Year messages to exchange with one another. Red envelopes can be made or purchased online.
Lucky Money Envelopes (PDF)
5. Practicing With Chopsticks
We use chopsticks for our New Year's feast, so we practice with them ahead of time. Have students follow the instructions on the handout below to become proficient chopstick users!
Using Chopsticks (PDF)
6. Cooking Fried Rice
- Everybody Cooks Rice by Norah Dooley, which has a recipe for fried rice in the back
- Fried rice ingredients listed in the book
- Electric fry pan
- Knives for chopping
- Plan for ingredients and tools needed. I donate the ingredients and make fried rice in an electric fry pan. There's lots of chopping so children need close supervision. It's a good idea to have a second adult to assist.
- Read the book Everybody Cooks Rice aloud to the class.
- Help the students prepare the fried rice.
Additional Foods for Feast
I supplement the meal with meat and vegetable dumplings, sesame noodles, white and fried rice, mooncakes, and fortune cookies from a Chinese restaurant. I serve students tiny portions which they are encouraged to try and then come back for second helpings.
Supporting All Learners
When we think back on our own school experience, it’s the plays, parties, musicals, and assemblies we remember. As children celebrate a special day of one of our nation’s cultural groups, they honor its people. All learners are included and part of the action. Children learn respect and appreciation of another culture and Chinese New Year becomes a memorable experience for all.
Contact a college or university in your area and connect with a Chinese or Chinese American student who might visit your school and teach your students a few words of Chinese.
Or ask an owner of a Chinese restaurant for help. A local restaurant donates free chopsticks and fortune cookies for my class and gives us a fancy calendar.
In addition to China, the Lunar New Year is also celebrated in Korea and Vietnam. I don't have Asian families in my school, but if I did I'd involve them. Even in communities where language is an obstacle, reach out and include Asian families, especially in food preparation.
Students work in small and large groups on a variety of projects as they prepare for and celebrate Chinese New Year.
Here are a few questions to consider. Was I:
- Realistic in the number and complexity of the activities I selected?
- Organized and prepared with the appropriate materials?
- Aware of what children were doing when I wasn’t directly supervising them?
- Making sure everyone was included?
- Flexible, patient, and able to adjust when things went wrong?
- Finally, what would I change, add, or delete next year?
There is not a rubric for this activity.
I’m expecting students to get along and work together independently. I can’t be everywhere at once so I trust that students will be kind and inclusive and hope that my rules, expectations, and values are internalized by January.