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Teaching Children About Chinese New Year

Teaching Your Pupils All About Chinese New Year in School

Fun Facts about Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year 2024 falls on Saturday 10th February and will last until Saturday 24th February. This year is the year of the dragon.

Chinese New Year is a festival that celebrates the beginning of the New Year on the traditional lunisolar Chinese calendar. In China, this festival is commonly referred to as the Spring Festival, as the spring season in the lunisolar calendar traditionally starts with lichun, the first of twenty-four solar terms which the festival celebrates around the time of Chinese New Year.

2024 chinese new year

It marks the end of winter and the beginning of spring. Celebrations start on Chinese New Year’s Eve, (the rising of the second new moon after the winter solstice – 21st December) and end with the Lantern Festival (which marks the full moon), which is celebrated on the 15th day of the year.

Most of the celebrations will be held on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day. The celebrations are meant to usher out the old year and bring luck and prosperity to the new one.

Celebrations last for 15 days from the first day of the Chinese New Year starting on the new moon that appears between the 21st of January and the 20th of February.

How is Chinese New Year Celebrated?

Chinese New Year is a time for family reunions, feasting, and celebrating the arrival of the new year. It is marked by various customs and traditions that have been passed down through generations.

Celebrations begin with the “reunion dinner” on New Year’s Eve, where families join and enjoy a festive and elaborate feast. This is the most important meal of all the festivities. This is where you will usually find a list of lucky and traditional food which usually consists of specialty meats or seafood (like lobster or shellfish), chicken, dumplings, noodles, and of course tofu – which traditionally symbolises fortune and happiness for all the family. For the “reunion dinner,” it is traditional to have a large buffet-style table of food, where the seating has been arranged by the elders of the family.

A common tradition for Chinese New Year is to clean and decorate your houses and streets with red decorations, symbolising good luck and fortune. Fireworks and firecrackers are set off to ward off evil spirits and bring good luck. This festival is also marked by the famous dragon and lion dances, which are performed in the streets to the beat of drums and cymbals.

a picture of chinese lanterns on chinese new year

Another important tradition on New Year's Day is families will visit temples to worship the gods and to welcome in the New Year. Everyone is given new clothes to wear especially red ones, which are believed to be the colour of good luck. The giving of red envelopes filled with money to unmarried adults and children is a custom, as well as placing sweets under children’s pillows. This is thought to bring good luck and fortunes in the coming years. Most families will gather to enjoy a New Year's banquet.

The festival ends with the Lantern Festival, which is celebrated on the 15th day of the lunar calendar. People light lanterns and hang them outside their homes, creating a beautiful and colourful display.

the chinese zodiac circle

Each year is associated with one of the 12 animals in the Chinese zodiac. 2024 is the year of the dragon. It is the fifth sign in the 12-year cycle of the Chinese zodiac. The dragon symbolises power, strength, and good luck in Chinese culture.

How Can You Teach Children About Chinese New Year?

Teaching Chinese New Year can easily be done within a school setting through the topic of the term such as “Around the World”. Learning about different countries and their key festivals and encouraging fun and engaging cross-curricular lessons! Let’s look at some Chinese New Year teaching ideas for schools to incorporate…

Cross-Curricular Learning- Traditional Chinese New Year Stories and Traditions

  • English and Religious Education Activities.
  • Traditional Tales – Story Maps, Small World Play, and Role Play.
  • Cultural Beliefs and Traditions.
  • Chinese New Year Teaching Resources:
  • Story “Legend of Monster Nian” or “The Great Race”
  • YouTube videos of the above stories
  • Pentagon Play Storytelling Circle with Perch Benches
  • Monster Costume
  • Red tissue paper streamers
  • Red Balloons
  • Percussion instruments
  • Party Poppers
  • Pentagon Play Chalkboard and Whiteboards
  • Chalk
  • Pentagon Play Playhouses
  • Pentagon Play Small World Nesting Tables
  • Dressing up costumes: Monster, Animals, Kings etc
  • Toy Animals

Traditional Tales

Set the scene by using Pentagon Play’s Storytelling Circle with Perch Benches, red tissue paper streamers, red balloons, and percussion instruments positioned around the Storytelling Circle. Read (and show videos on YouTube, there are many!) the children a traditional Chinese New Year story such as the “Legend of Monster Nian” or “The Great Race”. Children love stories and can follow storylines and themes, relating them to their everyday lives and their family festivals.

a group of children sit on the perch benches and a teacher reads a story to them

To make the stories even more enthralling ask your Teaching Assistant (TA) to dress up as a monster or the Jade King and hide not too far away from the Storytelling Circle! Ask the children questions related to the monster or Jade King. For instance, if you have read the story of the Legend of Monster Nian you could ask questions such as: Do you think there is a monster in school? Can you hear it? Get the TA to make growling noises! Ask the children how the villagers scared off the monster (by making lots of noise and holding red items.) Make a signal for the monster (TA) to appear and let the children ward off the monster using the red streamers, balloons, and percussion instruments! See the fun and excitement as all the children get involved! Once the monster has been chased away – hand each child a party popper and let them pop it! Explaining that they have chased away the old year and have welcomed in the new year! Then say KUNG HEI FAT CHOI! Happy New Year!

a teacher shows a reading book to her pupils sat on the benches

Story Mapping and Reciting

Leading on from this lesson children will be able to tell their own stories of the Legend of Monster Nian or The Great Race through story mapping and recitals.

A wonderful way to get children to draw their story maps would be by using one of Pentagon Play’s Chalkboard and Whiteboard Ranges, particularly our Performance Stage with Chalkboard, allowing children to story map and recite individually or in groups in a fun and engaging manner.

By encouraging children to develop their own stories and perform them they are enhancing their learning development, creativity, self-esteem, and social and linguistic skills.

four children stand on the stage and perform

Role Play and Small World Play

Other activities linked to the stories are small-world play and role play where the children can reenact the stories and become monsters, villagers, old women, and men, villagers or dragons, rats, horses, rabbits, and Jade Kings! Wonderful resources that can be used in conjunction with each other are Pentagon Play’s Playhouses.

Encouraging storytelling and imaginative role play in the Playhouses and small world play on nesting tables where fluid movement from one resource to the other can happen simultaneously.

three children sit in the essentials play house and a little girl pretends to be a wolf outside

This will help develop children’s personal, social, and emotional development as they chat through their ideas and movements, inviting their peers to join in with their role play and small world games.

At the same time, the children can use the in-build Chalkboard at the back of the Playhouses to note down their thoughts, and stories, and play with toy animals in the nesting tables, improving their fine motor skills and imagination!

Religious Education Activities – Traditions and Cultural Beliefs

Seat all the children back down and talk about all the traditions associated with Chinese New Year: Cleaning houses, red decorations, music in the streets, fireworks and firecrackers, paper lanterns, food, and family meals.

Children can learn about the cultural and religious beliefs of Chinese New Year compared to other different cultures in our community drawing on their own experiences and the stories read in class. Developing their thought processes by comparing similarities and differences between life in the UK and life in other countries.

Cross-Curricular Learning About Dragon Dances

  • English, Art and Design, Physical Education, Music, Religious Education, and Maths.
  • Traditional Tales
  • Measuring and Estimating
  • Making A Dragon Mask
  • Creating a Dragon Dance
  • English and Religious Education Activity – Traditional Tales:
  • Chinese New Year Teaching Resources:
  • Story “Legend of the Chinese Dragon”

The lion dance is a traditional dance performed at Chinese New Year and is linked to the Story of Niam.

However, as it is the year of the dragon read other traditional dragon stories such as the “Legend of the Chinese Dragon” by Marie Sellier to the children which links nicely with “The Great Race”.

Explain to the children that the dragon is an important part of Chinese culture, and the dragon dance is an integral part of Chinese New Year celebrations. This is linked to the Hung Dynasty, where ancestors would worship the dragon to bring rain for their crops. Nowadays the dance is used for entertainment for Chinese New Year. As it is believed to scare away evil spirits and bring good luck to people. As well as symbolising wisdom, power, and wealth.

a chinese dragon costume

Explain to the children that different colour dragon dances have different meanings: green symbolises a good harvest, yellow symbolises respect for the empire, gold or silver symbolises prosperity, and red symbolises excitement and the ushering in of good fortune.

Show the children examples of dragon dances on YouTube, looking at the physical appearance of the dragon and how the dragon moves!

  • Maths Activity – Measuring and Estimating:
  • Chinese New Year Teaching Resources:
  • Meter Rulers
  • Pentagon Play Long Jump Playground Marking

Let the children know that the length of a dragon in a dragon dance can vary from 2 meters to 10 meters, 100 meters even over 1,000 meters long! An exciting and interactive measuring and estimating maths activity would be to:

Tell the children that they are going to easure out the different lengths of dragons using the meter ruler with the children in the playground

A great resource to use to help the children estimate and visually see lengths is the Pentagon Play Long Jump Marking as it has measurements up to 2.5 meters for children to see and visualise!

a playground marking render

Ask the children to estimate how many children laid down would make 2 meters?

Get the children to lie on the ground to see if they are correct for the 2 meter dragon.

See if they can estimate the 10 meter dragons using their knowledge of how many children were in the 2 meter dragon.

If they can do it – can they estimate from 10 meters to 100 meters and 1,000 meters?

Art and Design Activity - Make a Dragon Head!

Tell the children that they will be making a dragon head in small groups and using it to perform a dragon dance!

Chinese New Year Resources

  • A large cardboard box
  • Paint – red, yellow, green, gold, silver
  • Paper – red, yellow, green, gold, silver etc
  • Scissors
  • Glue
  • Yogurt pots
  • A long strip of red cloth
  • 6 hula hoops
  • A stapler
  • A long bamboo cane
  • A small ball
  1. Model to the children how to create their dragon head:
  2. Cut out a mouth shape in the cardboard box.
  3. Cut out 2 holes for nostrils and insert the yogurt pots.
  4. Glue 2 yogurt pots on the top of the head for eyes to decorate later.
  5. Paint and glue coloured paper onto the head to decorate it.
  6. Glue sharp white teeth using white paper into the mouth.
  7. Staple the long red cloth onto the head so that 3 to 4 children can get under it to form the body.
  8. Children to hold the hula hoops for extra support.
  9. Glue the small ball onto the bamboo cane for the child to support the dragon’s head and lead the dance.
  10. Then let the children in their groups design and build their dragon heads. Watch as their creative juices flow whilst working together to problem solve and create a finished product!

Dance and Music - Dragon Dance

Once the dragon heads have been made another fun activity for the children is to use their heads to create a dragon dance!

Chinese New Year Resources:

  • Dragon head and body
  • YouTube dragon dance video
  • A drum
  • Cymbals
  • Pentagon Play Music Pack

The dragon dance:

Show the children the YouTube clip again of the dragon dance.

What do they notice?

A leader with the head – the rest follows.

Movement of their bodies: up, down, along, through, and between.

Moving together as the head moves, the rest of the body follows.

The beat of the music  – dragon moves to the beat of the drum and cymbals.

Then take the children to the hall or the playground with their dragon heads.

 Place the dragon heads on the floor.

In their small groups ask the children to choose a head (leader) and ask them to practice moving together in one line. Taking it in turns to be the head.

Once practiced – choose a child in each group to hold the head and the other children to go under the red cloth as the body.

Get the children to listen to the beat of the drum and cymbals (teacher, TA or children can do this.) A great resource to get a group of children involved in beating the rhythm is Pentagon Play's Music Pack. Where children can use the Drum Seats, Tongue Drum, and Freestanding Chimes to create the rhythmic beats for the dragons to follow. Can the children create fast, slow, loud, and soft beats?

two children stand and beat at the tongue drum

Ask the children to move to the beat of the instruments using the whole space. Using up, down, along, and through movements. Pentagon Play’s Activity Trail Markings or Number Dragon would be a perfect resource to aid children in following each other in different directions and motions.

Can they perform their dragon dance to the class?

Above are great examples of fun and engaging cross-curricular Chinese New Year teaching ideas, but here are a few quick activities that can be set up easily for children to do as free-flowing activities throughout the day:

Making animal masks

Making fortune cookies

Making lanterns

Chinese writing/symbols in the sand using Pentagon Play’s Sand Table.

two children stand on opposite sides of the sand table and dig in the sand

Making red envelopes and challenging children to place a plastic coin into it using chopsticks! Who has the most/least money?

Children can easily go from one station to another using the Chinese New Year teaching resources having fun and engaging in the activities provided.

For more information on Pentagon Play's products Contact one of our team on 01625 890 330 or email [email protected] where one of our expert advisers will be happy to help!