Thursday, January 22, 2009

Chinese New Year Activities for the Montessori Classroom

chinese new year activities montessori classroom culture curriculum chopsticksCelebrating cultural differences in the Montessori classroom helps children understand that humans have different backgrounds and heritages as well as different ways of looking at the world. Helping children learn about different cultures prevents them from forming false opinions or even worse, false stereotypes for those with whom they may not be familiar. It also helps children of these cultures form positive self-esteem and pride in their heritage.

In my recent blog about celebrating Chinese New Year, I promised some activities that you could use in your Montessori classroom to encourage cultural awareness for children of all ages.

Chinese New Year Activities for the Montessori Classroom

Celebrating through song
I was so pleasantly surprised when I started teaching in the lower elementary Montessori classroom. My children loved to sing! They would sing about anything and they especially liked it when I made up new lyrics to familiar tunes. Here are a few songs I came across for Chinese New Year that would be suitable for both Preschool/Kindergarten and Lower Elementary students.

Chinese Dragon (sung to the tune of "Frere Jacques")
Chinese dragon, Chinese dragon,
Breathing fire, breathing fire,
Happy, happy new year,
Happy, happy new year,
Gung hay fat choy,
Gung hay fat choy.

Chinese Hello Song (sung to the tune of "The Farmer in the Dell")
Let's wave and say "Ni hao (nee how),"
Let's wave and say "Ni hao."
Let's say "hello" to all our friends,
Let's wave and say "ni hao."

Developing the pincer grip
Developing the pincer grip is crucial in the development of fine motor skills in Montessori preschool classroom. There is a graduation in the level of skill required - first using large tongs to transfer pompoms to a bowl, next using sugar cube tongs to transfer beads between bowls, and then using tweezers to transfer small flat shapes to a bowl. Using chopsticks is another advanced way to develop this pincer grip.

Montessori Services had a very attractive Using Chopsticks Activity that included 2 lotus dishes, a tray, child sized chopsticks, a chopstick tray and pompoms- You can get this activity together for your classroom easily and cost effectively. For more advanced students, have them transfer beans or grains of rice. Once proficient, children may use the chopsticks during lunch time or your Chinese New Year celebration.

Another way to practice the pincer grip is with calligraphy. You can purchase inexpensive calligraphy materials at your local art supply or craft store. Again, Montessori Services has an authentic Calligraphy set that is as beautiful as it is serviceable: Chinese Calligraphy Set. You can find beginning calligraphy books at your local library or bookstore. Have several samples available for your children to copy. When finished, hang these around your classroom as part of your Chinese New Year celebration.

chinese new year activities montessori classroom culture curriculum symbol  blessings
chinese new year activities montessori classroom culture curriculum symbol happiness
chinese new year activities montessori classroom culture curriculum symbol longevity
chinese new year activities montessori classroom culture curriculum symbol wealth

Part of the Lower Elementary Montessori biology curriculum calls for children to learn the parts of different animals. Since this is the year of the Ox, you could make 3-part cards and booklets for the parts of the ox. Children could first match the 3-part cards, then color and label their booklets. (Three-part cards and booklets could also be made for the signs of the Chinese Zodiac). View sample Zoology nomenclature.

When looking for reading booklets for either guided or shared reading, I visit the Enchanted Learning website. My search on Chinese New Year provided several ideas for both early and fluent readers. I really liked the Chinese Counting Book that included the numbers 1-12. Chinese Printable Books.

Chinese papercuts
The papercut is an art form that originated in China. Around the first century A.D., the Chinese invented paper. The first papercut can be traced back to the periods known as the Northern and Southern Dynasties (A.D. 386-581). You might want to find some simple blackline masters of symbols associated with the Chinese New Year. Allow older children to use small sharp scissors or an art knife to cut through the paper and hang them around your Montessori classroom to add decorations to your Chinese New Year celebration.

Landscape Scroll Paintings
Introduce Chinese geography by inviting students to make landscape paintings. Share images of places like the Himalayan Mountains and the Great Wall. Next introduce the artform of scroll paintings with some examples.

Demonstrate the following steps to help your Montessori students make their own paintings. (Remember, Chinese landscapes are not often sketched out first, but are done in quick strokes)
  • Dip a brush pen into water, blot on a towel, dip the pen into ink, and blot again.
  • Paint on white paper.
  • Mount the painting on construction paper. Secure a flat stick at the top and bottom and attach a piece of string for hanging.
New Year's Eve Games
On New Year's Eve, Chinese children stay up late playing games. Be sure to have these games as part of your celebration:
  • Dominoes. Ask kids to create patterns with dominoes, first invented in China 1,000 years ago. Then have them remove a domino, challenging a partner to fill in the hole.
  • Cards. Have students draw a playing card (a 9th-century Chinese invention) and write a story starring that card's number or figure.
  • Jianzi. Ancient jianzi is similar to today's hacky sack. Challenge kids to keep a beanbag “jianzi” in the air, no hands allowed.
Lantern Festival
chinese new year activities NAMC montessori classroom culture curriculum lanterns Fifteen days after the New Year, Chinese families traditionally gather in a public place with lanterns for a feast and riddle-guessing games. To mark the end of your Chinese New Year study, your Montessori students can make their own lanterns and write riddles about China to review what they’ve learned.

To make a lantern:
  • Roll a piece of lightweight yellow paper into a long cylinder and tape it.
  • Fold a piece of red paper that is the same size as the yellow, in half.
  • Draw a line about 1" from the unfolded edge and make cuts about 1/2" apart from the folded edge to the line.
  • Open the paper, wrap the uncut ends around the yellow cylinder, and then glue it on.
  • Cut one more strip of red paper and attach it to the top as a handle.
  • Next, have students brainstorm one fact they have learned about China and on a note card write a riddle based on that fact.
With your lanterns, parade through your Montessori school. Later, gather back in your classroom for a review game with their riddles.

Chinese New Year Recipes
No cultural celebration is complete without food! Traditional foods include seafood, thin noodles, and dumplings which symbolize prosperity and good wishes. Here are some easy recipes your students can make together.

Egg Drop Soup (Chinese New Year Recipes)

You Will Need:
  • 2 cans of chicken or vegetarian broth
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1 well-beaten egg
  • 2 tablespoons sliced green onion
  • In a saucepan, stir chicken broth into cornstarch. Cook until slightly thickened.
  • Pour in egg, stirring gently. Remove from heat.
  • Garnish with green onion.
Chinese New Year Cakes (Chinese New Year Recipes)

You Will Need:
  • 1 and 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/3 cup water or milk
  • 1 tablespoon cooking oil
  • 2/3 cup sesame seeds
  • Cooking oil for deep fat frying
  • Combine first four dry ingredients.
  • Mix together the eggs, water or milk, and the cooking oil. Stir into flour mixture.
  • Drop spoonfuls of batter into a bowl of sesame seeds. Coat on both sides. Let stand 15 minutes.
  • Deep fry cakes until puffy and golden brown. Let drain on paper towel. Serve warm.
Fortune Cookies (from Food Network)
While fortune cookies are little-known in mainland China, they are known throughout the western world as a traditional dessert served after a meal. Before preparing, have your Montessori students write their own “fortunes” on small slips of paper which will be inserted into the cookies. (It’s interesting to note that fortune cookies started in Japan!)

You Will Need:
  • 2 egg whites, room temperature
  • 6 tablespoons butter
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup flour, sifted
  • 1/4 teaspoons vanilla extract
Directions (These will need adult supervision as the baked cookies will be quite hot for little fingers to handle) :
  • Cut a stencil out of a plastic coffee can lid in the shape of a 3-inch disk.
  • Whip the egg whites until stiff and chill.
  • In a mixer, cream the butter.
  • Add the sugar and continue mixing.
  • Add the flour and blend in.
  • Add the vanilla and blend again.
  • Add the chilled egg whites and mix on low until well incorporated and the batter is smooth.
  • With a small offset spatula, spread batter through the stencil so it is a circle onto parchment paper, about 6 per cookie sheet.
  • Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven until light golden brown, 7 to 8 minutes.
  • Quickly remove the pan from the oven and one at time place a fortune across the center with a bit hanging out.
  • Fold cookie circle in thirds over fortune with flaps only slightly overlapping each other.
  • Turn over and bring opposing sides together and pinch.
  • Let cool.
You don’t have to do all of these activities to celebrate cultural awareness. However, the more excited and informed you are, the more your students will get out of your celebration. View NAMC’s previous Chinese New Year posting: Celebrating Chinese New Year in the Montessori Classroom.
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 Thursday, January 22, 2009.


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