A dozen girls gather at recess time to work in the Wonder Studio. They are in the midst of painting, decorating, and constructing projects of their choice. This week, I added a box in the shape of a dragon’s head to celebrate Lunar New year. I quickly cut the box to look like a dragon with a wide pointed-tooth grin. The girls collected some found objects to make the dragon’s eyes, nostrils, and teeth. Then we all took turns collaging bright colored tissue paper all over the head in layers upon layers. Once completed, the dragon would be hung right outside their classrooms to celebrate Lunar New Year.
I have done this dragon project with countless students over several decades. I love this tradition because it always sparks children’s imaginations and makes the classroom atmosphere festive. I think the best way for young children to learn about other cultures is through celebrations (food, storytelling, and art). These are powerful ways in which to hold memories. When I was a classroom teacher, this art project would be the anchor for deep research into the holiday and the Asian culture. We read widely and began to understand these cultures and traditions more organically.
These days, I’ve noticed that with more and more emphasis on curricular initiatives there seems to be less and less time to celebrate, less and less time for conversations, and less time for connection. The classrooms are a rush of activity, one lesson after the next – go, go, go. Don’t stop. Don’t think. Don’t feel the struggle and joy in learning.
I’m glad I can eke out some time for kids to converse and create; some time to experiment and play; some time to celebrate the small things. They need to know the joy of taking a risk – of taking a cardboard box and transforming into something whimsical. There is magic held within that simple box, and I want children to experience that creative power.
As they worked, they began asking questions about Lunar New Year. They began talking to each other naturally. Some of them knew quite a bit about the holiday and supplied lots of information with facts and personal experiences. Questions grew and so did the students’ understanding. They wanted to know more. They wanted to become part of the celebration.
Books About Lunar New Year
- A New Year’s Reunion: A Chinese Story
- A Sweet New Year for Ren
- Bringing in the New Year
- Chin Chiang and the Dragon Dance
- Chloe’s Lunar New Year
- D is for Dragon Dance
- Emma’s American Chinese New Year
- Every Month is a New Year
- Friends are Friends Forever
- Goldy Luck and the Three Pandas
- How to Catch a Dragon
- Long Goes to Dragon School
- Moonbeams, Dumplings & Dragon Boats
- Our Lunar New Year
- Playing with Lanterns
- Ruby’s Chinese New Year
- Sam and the Lucky Money
- Tet Together
- The Runaway Wok
- The Whole World Inside Nan’s Soup
- This Next New Year
- Year of the Cat