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Year of the Pig! Introduce the Chinese New Year with STEAM Lesson Plans

Chinese New Year, otherwise known as Lunar New Year or Spring Festival, fell on Tuesday, February 5 this year. 2019 is the Year of the Pig, and people around the world will celebrate with their friends and families.

Lunar New Year is a great holiday to incorporate into your classroom. Not only does it break up the school year in a time between major holidays, it also serves as an opportunity to explore other cultures and make your students more worldly. Here’s how you can add Chinese New Year material into your lesson plans regardless of the grade level you teach while adding a STEAM twist.

Why Kids Should Learn About Chinese New Year

While the Lunar New Year is an opportunity to break up traditional lesson plans and present material in an engaging manner, it also serves as a tool to discuss cultural differences and help students embrace their peers.

“Young children don’t have societal preconceptions and I think sometimes we forget that,” says Akeelah Kuraishi, cofounder of Little Global Citizens. “It’s very imperative to take a stand right now to impact the next generation and make sure they are open-minded, compassionate, and aware.”

Representation matters. Students who see their own cultures in the classroom feel more accepted, while their peers learn about the traditions, history, and values of those cultures. These lessons can stick with students long after they leave your class.

“Now, more than ever, schools are filled with students coming from diverse backgrounds,” educator Michele Rispo Hill writes. “The foundation of acceptance will serve to promote a healthy social and emotional wellbeing for all of our students – and in turn, they can focus on academic rigor and experience success in school.”

STEAM lessons are used to teach kids everything from music to environmental best practices, and cultural appreciation is no different. The Chinese New Year provides a basis for great discussions on culture while learning science, math, and engineering.

Start With Online Videos to Introduce the Chinese New Year

If your students are eager to work on STEAM lessons and activities you have planned, start with a video on the Chinese New Year. There are several educational YouTube channels available online that accommodate various age groups and grades. A few of the best for the Chinese New Year include:

  • “Chinese New Year for Kids” by HomeSchool Pop is a little more than eight minutes long and offers an in-depth look on the differences between the Gregorian and Chinese calendars.
  • The Kiboomers – Kids Music Channel created a Chinese New Year song for preschoolers and kindergarten students. The song is both educational and a way to get kids moving in the classroom.
  • Little Steps Asia posts weekly videos with family-friendly tips and activities for visiting Asia. Their video “Celebrating Chinese New Year With Kids” shows your students the traditions behind the holiday and how people across the globe observe it.

Once your students have an understanding of what Chinese New Year is and why people celebrate it, you can launch related STEAM activities to engage students and further your lesson plan.

Give Crafts and Activities a STEAM Twist

There are dozens of great ideas for incorporating the Lunar New Year into the classroom. Below are a few activities and lesson plans you can adapt for your classroom.

Ozobot Light-Up Lanterns

Creative educators can engage kids of all ages in Chinese New Year-related activities. Carrie Willis led her pre-K students in creating Chinese lanterns. After they traced their lanterns with colored lines, Evo brought them to life with its brilliant LEDs. Use black lines and Color Codes to put your own twist on this activity!

Teach Math Lessons With Red Envelopes

Red envelopes are an iconic part of Lunar New Year. People often give each other red envelopes (called hóngbāo) with money as a sign of good wishes and prosperity. With a few fake coins and paper envelopes, you can develop a lesson plan that meets the math needs of your students. Katie Pinch at A Little Pinch of Perfect shares her pre-K and kindergarten level math activity, which you can make more advanced to teach foreign conversions, probability, and fractions.

Sun Catcher Lanterns

We can’t get enough lantern lessons! Jenny Kearney at The Gingerbread House has a tutorial for lantern suncatchers. There are multiple ways you can incorporate STEM learning and make this lesson more advanced for your classroom. Students can engineer the lantern with different size and area measurements or learn about translucence by changing how light goes through their creations.

Build Sculptures and Structures With Marshmallows

Kindergarten teacher Shari Carter shares a Year of the Dog lesson plan at Scholastic. Students use marshmallows and toothpicks to create dogs and then count the marshmallows needed. You can do something similar for the Year of the Pig, but give students engineering challenges like using the least amount of marshmallows or creating the most stable statue. You can also ask them to make bridges, such as those commonly found in Chinese gardens. By adding these challenges, students learn about structural integrity and physics.

Make Slime!

There are few things kids get more excited about than slime. The team at Little Bins for Little Hands have an activity where students make red slime with gold glitter and sequins for the Chinese New Year. Students learn why the color red is significant in Chinese culture and use the gold glitter to symbolize wealth and prosperity.

Decorate Lion Paper Bag Masks

With a few paper bags, you can follow this craft by Leslie Manlapig at Pink Stripey Socks to make lion masks for Chinese New Year. Students can decorate their masks and learn lion dance moves while learning about the significance of lions in Chinese architecture. She also has a list of books about the Chinese New Year, which you can look at if you want to add a reading element to the lesson.

Repurpose Past Chinese New Year Lessons for 2019

You don’t need to create a new lesson plan for each Lunar New Year. While some animals might lead to new ideas, you can take the lessons from last year and make minor changes for the Year of the Pig.

For example, Carman Le, an elementary school educator and 2015 MeckEd Teacher of Excellence, created a guide with Common Core-based lesson plans for teachers looking to celebrate the Chinese New Year. The lesson plan applies to the Year of the Dog (2018), but can be modified for this new year.

Your students will have so much fun learning about Chinese culture, creating lanterns and exploring different languages that they won’t realize they are using important STEAM skills that will help them in the future. Here’s to a successful new year!