Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Going Out, Montessori Style: Dragon Boat Festival Experiences and Activities

NAMC montessori going out culture curriculum activities dragon boat festival
My Montessori students have always loved learning about the celebrations and traditions of other cultures. No matter what age, cultural celebrations are a hit with kids and a surefire way to help cultural and history studies come alive. I had not heard of dragon boat racing and the accompanying festival until this year, but I know my students will have a lot of fun learning about this tradition. Though dragon boat racing is often done in June, our city will be having a dragon boat race on August 22 this year. I am already planning to invite my Montessori students and their parents to meet me there for a class outing!

Going Out, Montessori Style: Dragon Boat Festival Experiences and Activities

NAMC montessori going out culture curriculum activities dragon boat festival team
Dragon Boat racing began more than 2,000 years ago, and is tied to Chinese “dragon” culture, which reveres the dragon as a symbol of imperial power, and considered the governor of rainfall (water dragons). A dragon boat is a long, narrow boat powered by many paddlers. The boats are often decorated to resemble a dragon, including a dragon’s head at the bow, tail at the stern, and scales painted along the sides. The oars represent the dragon’s claws. Dragon boats can have anywhere from 10 to 50 paddlers, in addition to the drummer and the helm (steerer). Originally, dragon boat racing was a fertility rite done during the summer solstice in the valleys of southern China. In early times, dragon boat races attempted to wake the Heavenly Dragon by imitating a battle.

Another story of dragon boat racing took place during the Warring States period (fourth century BCE). This was a time of alliances and change. Qu Yuan, a popular poet of the people, was banished by the king. Qu Yuan jumped into the river holding a heavy rock. The people tried to save Qu Yuan by beating drums and splashing their oars from their fishing boats. They were attempting to protect him from the fish and water dragons, which are believed to reside in the ocean.

Today, dragon boat racing still incorporates ancient legends and rituals. It is held near the summer solstice, and it honors the dragon. It incorporates competition and multi-colored boats decorated like dragons. Taoist priests often bless the race with a ritual called “awakening of the dragons.” It is a strong team-building sport that can involve the participation of people of all ages. Many philanthropic groups create racing teams to promote friendship and support for a cause, such as breast cancer.

Today, Vancouver’s Rio Tinto Alcan Dragon Boat Festival is the biggest in North America. More than 180 dragon boat teams from around the world come to compete and over 90,000 people come as spectators. Dragon boat festivals take place in 60 countries with some 50 million participants worldwide.

Dragon Boat Festival Activities for the Montessori Classroom and Home
  • Research local and regional dragon boat festivals and take a class field trip or family road trip.
  • Enter the kids’ division of a local dragon boat festival, if possible.
  • Make small dragon boats and race them on a pond.
  • As a class or a family, make zongzi and other traditional foods.
NAMC montessori going out culture curriculum activities dragon boat festival zongzi
Zongzi Recipe
Zonzgi is a Chinese rice dumpling wrapped in bamboo leaves that is associated with the Dragon Boat Festival, and the story of Qu Yuan.

Dragon Boat Festival Books
  • Chinese Festivals-Celebrating the Dragon Boat Festival, by Sanmu Tang
  • Moonbeams, Dumplings & Dragon Boats: A Treasury of Chinese Holiday Tales, Activities & Recipes, by Nina Simonds, Leslie Swartz, The Children's Museum Boston, and Meilo So
  • Red Eggs and Dragon Boats: Celebrating Chinese Festivals, by Carol Stepanchuk
  • The Mermaid's Muse: The Legend of the Dragon Boats (Chinese Legends Trilogy), by David Bouchard and Zhong-Yang Huang
  • Awakening the Dragon: The Dragon Boat Festival, by Arlene Chan and Song Nan Zhang
  • Dragon Boat Racing in Canada Paddles Up! by Arlene Chan and Susan Humphries
  • Dragon Boats: A Celebration, by Pat Barker
As much as possible, NAMC’s web blog reflects the Montessori curriculum as provided in its teacher training programs. We realize and respect that Montessori schools are unique and may vary their schedules and offerings in accordance with the needs of their individual communities. We hope that our readers will find our articles useful and inspiring as a contribution to the global Montessori community.
© North American Montessori Center - originally posted in its entirety at Montessori Teacher Training on Tuesday, June 23, 2009.


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