Holidays in the Classroom: Lunar (Chinese) New Year

Lunar, or Chinese, New Year is one of the most widely celebrated holidays in the world. It is celebrated, in fact, by a fifth of the world’s population. And not just in China- anywhere there is large Chinese population. It is marked with parades, gatherings and celebrations across the globe. Here in Vancouver, where I live, it’s one of the big holidays for schools. Nearly thirty percent of my city’s population are ethnically Chinese, making this holiday one that pretty much all of my students- regardless of race- know.

So. With a holiday as culturally significant (and not just to Chinese folks- Lunar New Year celebrations in Korea, Vietnam and Tibet were and are strongly influenced by CNY), one would expect lots of easily accessible materials and stories that are culturally appropriate right? Well. Not so much.

So I’ve rounded up some of my favourite #ownvoices Chinese New Year books for y’all- CNY this year starts on February 5th, so you have lots of time to acquire them. And I have included links to the very few printables I have found that I love. So let’s talk about how we can bring this hugely important holiday into our classrooms.

BOOKS FOR CHINESE NEW YEAR

We know I love books. So I’m just going to post a few favourites, but my full list can be found here.

Grace Lin is one of my favourite authors ever. Her books are colourful, sweet, and I am fairly sure I own everything the woman has ever written. Her now classic “Bringing in the New Year” is a staple in my home and my classroom and has been for year

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This Next New Year” by Janet S. Wong is a wonderful book about a half Chinese, half Korean boy and how he and his family and friends celebrate. It’s great and I love that she includes that the child’s non-Chinese friends celebrate with him and their neighbours.

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This next one has some of my favourite illustrations and is a bit of a heavier story, though small children won’t necessarily pick up on that. In '“A New Year’s Reunion” by Yu-Li-Qiong and Zhu Cheng-Liang, a young girl is eagerly awaiting her father’s return- he is a migrant worker and only is able to come home once a year, for New Years. The book follows their time together back home and is a sweet and compelling story that I always enjoy. The brief note at the end of the book reminds us that there are over 100 million migrant workers in China (and more abroad) who are only able to see their families once a year. Big conversations can happen around this book. I love it.

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As I mentioned earlier- other Asian cultures also celebrate the Lunar New Year, and “New Clothes for New Year’s Day” by Hyun-Joo Bae is about a young Korean girl getting dressed in her brand new clothes and it is always, without fail, a hit with my students. It’s colourful, and fun to read. There’s an afterword with explanations of Korean Lunar New Year and traditional Korean dress, and it’s just a delight all around. And the illustrations are stunning.

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Finally- what book list for Lunar New Year would be complete without a book featuring the story of the zodiac? “The Race for the Chinese Zodiac” by Gabrielle Wang is my favourite version of this story but there are many great options. I adore the illustrations in this one and the story is simple enough for the youngest of my students without boring the older ones. It’s great.

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Check out these titles and the rest of my Lunar New Year book list in my Amazon store and please let me know what favourites of yours I’m missing!

CLASSROOM MATERIALS FOR CHINESE NEW YEAR

Now- onto classroom materials. It is super easy for teachers- especially white teachers- to fall into lessons that are culturally insensitive, inaccurate and inappropriate when it comes to non-white, non-Christian holidays. I recognize that. None of the materials I’ll be talking about in this post are created by Chinese folks- and I will update this post if and when I find Montessori-friendly materials made by people with Chinese heritage. But the materials are lovely, designed with thought and care, and can be used in a classroom appropriately. So yay!

First up- Seemi from Trillium Montessori has an adorable Chinese New Year Preschool Pack. Like nearly all of her preschool packs, it includes colour sorting, size sorting, categories sorting, as well as number clip cards, cutting strips and more. The materials here are focused on the animals of the zodiac- which is probably why it is so consistently popular in my classroom. The animal zodiac is just always fun for children.

I love that the Trillium pack focuses on the animals of the zodiac. It’s a great way to build vocabulary and my students have always love the what is it/who am I cards?

I love that the Trillium pack focuses on the animals of the zodiac. It’s a great way to build vocabulary and my students have always love the what is it/who am I cards?

The number clip cards from Trillium are a perpetual favourite in my classroom. I’ve always used stones as markers rather than clips.

The number clip cards from Trillium are a perpetual favourite in my classroom. I’ve always used stones as markers rather than clips.

Next- this isn’t a Montessori material as such. But it’s great. The Safari Chinese Zodiac Toob has larger figures than many of their sets and last year I used them in a matching activity with postcards that had images of the zodiac animals in papercut- similar to these here. These animals can be used for many different matching activities, including with several card sets from the amazing and lovely Montessori Inspired Chinese New Year Printable Pack from my pal Renae at Every Star is Different.

I love these animals.

I love these animals.

And finally- let’s go through this pack of Renae’s. Because it’s great.

The Montessori-Inspired Chinese New Year Printable Pack

It’s a big one. Ninety-two pages of activities you can use every year because it isn’t specific to this year (which will be the year of the pig, fyi.)

There are three part cards for a variety of things- including animals of the zodiac (with a set of the Chinese symbol for the animal name and a black and white graphic clipart set that I think pairs beautifully with the Safari Toob listed above); foods traditionally eaten during CNY (these cards make me very hungry, I’m not going to lie); blossoms and fruits that are symbolic and important to New Year; and more. All of these also have a separate version with definition cards- perfect for those who may not know a Chinese dish or why kumquats are important (they are a symbol of good luck and small kumquat potted trees are often given as gifts during the New Year celebrations).

The three part cards for the animals and Chinese symbols are great and just perfect for making your own mix and match set with each other, photos of animals, the Safari toob, whatever!

The three part cards for the animals and Chinese symbols are great and just perfect for making your own mix and match set with each other, photos of animals, the Safari toob, whatever!

The food cards in every set Renae makes always make me very hungry. One more reason to be grateful I live in Vancouver and can partake in delicious Chinese dishes twenty four hours a day if I wanted. The food, blossoms, symbols of CNY and fruit cards all also have definition cards to go with them or just for a teacher to research themselves before sharing with a class.

The food cards in every set Renae makes always make me very hungry. One more reason to be grateful I live in Vancouver and can partake in delicious Chinese dishes twenty four hours a day if I wanted. The food, blossoms, symbols of CNY and fruit cards all also have definition cards to go with them or just for a teacher to research themselves before sharing with a class.

I love that there are so many cards that could really be used anytime. While all of the fruits and blossoms have significance at NY in particular, you could just have them for units on plants, food, China, etc., any time of year.

I love that there are so many cards that could really be used anytime. While all of the fruits and blossoms have significance at NY in particular, you could just have them for units on plants, food, China, etc., any time of year.

One of my favourite activities in this set is a timeline of the Lunar New Year that begins with all the cleaning and prep done prior to the first day, and covers every day of the fifteen day celebration. While many folks only celebrate the first four days with time off work and major festivities, the traditions vary widely across China and in Chinese expat communities- some celebrate some of the days, some the first four, a few in the middle, and then the last, some all fifteen. When I return to the classroom, I’ll be backing this timeline on red cardstock and inviting my students to pick out the days their families celebrate.

Won’t this be fun mounted and used as a timeline for students to look at and compare family traditions?

Won’t this be fun mounted and used as a timeline for students to look at and compare family traditions?

There are half sheets near the end of the bundle that I’ll be binding into a booklet that very respectfully and thoughtfully describe the Chinese religious and spiritual beliefs that form the basis of many of the New Year celebrations. There are pages for Taoism, Buddhism, Confucianism and the folk religions of ancient China, which all of the other native belief systems mentioned build upon.

Renae puts so much research into her bundles, and they are always culturally sensitive, accurate and respectful of different belief systems.

Renae puts so much research into her bundles, and they are always culturally sensitive, accurate and respectful of different belief systems.

There’s so much in this bundle and I haven't even printed half of it to show you. There are math cards and writing cards- I often use Renae’s writing strip cards in my class, if you laminate and give the children a dry erase marker, they are wonderful for writing practice and easy to switch out for various holidays and themes. It’s so much and given the very sparse offerings online for Chinese New Year materials, I was so thrilled when she announced she was making this set. And for a few more days (until Tuesday the 29th at midnight), it’s available for only $6.99. So I’d jump on it, pals. You have plenty of time to prep cards before festivities begin on February 5th.

OTHER CLASSROOM IDEAS

Last year, for a fun vocabulary lesson for the Year of the Dog, I made a set of cards of Chinese dog breeds. The shar pei, pug, pekingnese, shih Tzu, chow chow and others. It was a wild success, as kids inevitably love animal cards- and one that was easy as heck to make. This year is the year of the pig and it wouldn’t be hard to whip up a set of cards of different breeds of pigs. It’s so easy to introduce new vocabulary this way- and my students loved talking about the dogs they recognized from the neighbourhood and the ones they didn’t. (One child called the pekingnese a fluffy footstool and proceeded to beg her mother for one for the following two weeks.)

For older students, I know elementary guides who have had children do projects and research into the difference between the Lunar calendar and the Gregorian calendar. Or research how different communities- within and outside of China- celebrate, as there are dozens of regional differences. One upper EL guide I know had several students who organized going outs to local Chinese community groups to experience different parts of the holiday with different families.

And finally- always my favourite. If you have students in your classroom whose families celebrate Chinese New Year, invite them in. Invite parents or grandparents or other caregivers in to share their personal family traditions, tell stories and share their culture. That is, hands down, the best way to bring other traditions and cultures into your classroom. By making it a safe and welcoming space for all.



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