I started doing Lunar New Year presentations in my son’s preschool when he was 2. I have now done quite a few of them because I have done them for a three different classes when he was 4. So now I am writing my lesson plan for kindergarteners and first graders.
I’m a little bit afraid of the kids because they are much savvier than they used to be. One kid was surprised that Danny was my son when kindergarten began. He obviously got that we didn’t look alike and yet I was saying he was my son. So I may have to add a bit about adoption this year.
Danny’s understanding of adoption is not so much. He says he knows he is adopted, but I’m not sure he really understands what it is. But a child can only understand as much as he is ready for. For that matter the same holds true for adults.
I have asked Bonnie Gardner for guidance on my wording about adoption. Her son is a year older than mine and Bonnie is pretty savvy herself about adoption wording both for young children and for adults.
Preparation will be similar to my preschool program, but will include more things to do.
Buy ahead at Oriental Trading Company
- Chinese New Year Dragon Ceiling Decoration
- Chinese New Year Goldtone Coins
- Chinese New Year Chocolate Coins (I put these in red envelopes to take home instead of money)
- Mini Lucky Money Bags
- Chinese “Happy New Year!” Banner — didn’t see them this year, maybe you have one left over from last year or find at a local Chinese store
- Spring Happiness Poems
- Chinese Zodiac Sticker Chart I didn’t get these for my presentation, but I found these while writing this. This would work instead of a Zodiac chart.
Buy ahead at various locations
- Real Lucky Money Red Envelopes from Asian Store – or just get extra from OTC
- $2 bills for each lucky money envelope — if you want to do money instead of chocolate, I switched to chocolate at age 4, due to the shear number of students I was presenting to.
- silk flower of plum, peach or cherry blossom – got at Eden Center – 1 for $8, but I bet they have something similar at Michael’s Arts and Craft stores.
- marionette puppet of a Lion Dancer – got at Eden Center store ($12 – 4 years ago) But now they want $20-25. Here it is on Amazon. They also sell them on eBay and at the Chinatown parade, as well as at Eden Center in Falls Church, but only before Tet (Lunar New Year). I know from experience you can’t waltz in to the stores in Eden Center in August and ask to buy one. New World Distribution in Eden Center is where I got my original Lion Dancer marionette.
- Chinese New Years Music download the whole thing or just buy track 2, Lion Dance
- another “Spring Happiness Poem” from local Asian store
- Two red silk lanterns from Maxim in Rockville (only need to buy this once) They are also available online everywhere. Check out my on-line shopping section at MyAsianKidDC.com
- Snake puppet (2013) or whatever animal it is on the zodiac that the presentation is. I bought this snake puppet at IKEA for $8, what a deal.
Information You Need from the Teacher
- Get the birthdays of the children in the class, MM/DD/YYYY and figure out the zodiac sign via Wikipedia of each student
Stuff to get from the Teacher
- Get some large 18″x24” red construction paper from the teacher, enough to make 1 lantern per student plus one prototype, and yellow paper for handle, 1 handle per lantern. Here are someone’s instructions. In the past I have pre-cut the paper so that all the kids have to do stamp on designs and the teachers could staple together. You can make the lanterns half size, so each lantern starts with a piece of paper 12″x18″. I buy some cellulose sponges and cut them into various shapes, triangle, circle, square – it doesn’t have to be fancy. I think this year I will need to make enough so that each table has a set of sponges which are dipped into yellow or gold paint and used to decorate the lanterns. I have done this a couple of times in the past. I see that the year of this picture was yellow construction paper and red paint.
Food to buy before the presentation
I want to make sure food is part of this event. So I have found that Great Wall Supermarket (there are several in this area) has just about everything I need for the day. Buy whatever food you want to use. I choose fruits that are from China and Vietnam and things that children might like to try, although some of the foods are not specifically special for Lunar New Year.
- Bag of Mandarin oranges (I actually peel some of these so that each student gets part of an orange and no child has to waste time peeling them.)
- Precut fresh mango slices from Trader Joes (or get the frozen ones and thaw) – or get fresh mango, I don’t have good luck with buying it myself so get the stuff from TJ’s.
- Dragon Fruit from GW – (I cut up on site, so they can see it whole.) – I use this fruit because Danny is from the province in Vietnam where they grow this fruit.
- kumquats – this is a small citrus fruit. Vietnamese give kumquat trees to friends at Tet. I actually have eaten these since I was a kid. There would always be kumquats in my Christmas stocking.
- Watermelon – I have not done this in the past, but if I can buy some cut-up pieces, I will add it. I just read in my new book “Celebrate Tet“, a children’s book I got after last Lunar New Year, it says “The Vietnamese eat watermelons during Tet and believe the redder the fruit on the inside means good luck for the new year.”
- Vanilla roll cake from GW – who doesn’t like cake
- Some candied ginger – from local Asian store Here is what it looks like, make it if you want, I bought it.
Given the rules of what you can bring in to eat in our public schools, I think it would be hard to bring in dumplings into school, but that is always a possibility for others. This is a Chinese tradition, and not a Vietnamese tradition, but Danny loves dumplings after reading “Bringing in the New Year” over and over where “Ma-ma makes the get-rich dumplings.”.
Books to Read in Class
I bought several children’s books from Amazon.com These are the two books here I found to be the best for my audience level. I changed “Chinese New Year” to “Lunar New Year” and where it talked about the Chinese Traditional costume, I changed it to ao dai, which is the Vietnamese traditional costume.
Other Books I Bought or got from the Library
- I really like Moonbeans, Dumplings & Dragon Boats, which is helpful for preparing for Lunar New Year. It talks about different aspects of the holiday including recipes and games. And it has the most beautiful watercolor illustrations throughout the book.
- Ten Mice for Tet (This is a good one and does explain Tet clearly, but it uses fewer words and the pictures which are actually embroidery are harder to interpret.) I see it has gone out of print since last I looked, so the price is much higher now.
- The Dancing Dragon- Danny’s pre-K teacher borrowed this and read it on another day, this is a nice book, but doesn’t explain Lunar New Year as well as the two I have high-lighted
- Red Is a Dragon: A Book of Colors (not about Lunar New Year)
- Round Is a Mooncake: A Book of Shapes (not about Lunar New Year)
- Sam and the Lucky Money I actually really like this book and read it to Danny many times during Lunar New Year season, but it takes an understanding of Lunar New Year already for this book to make sense.
- My First Chinese New Year – I have gotten this out of the library, it is clear and easy to understand with beautiful drawings. I have a problem with the ancestor worship, so I really don’t want to read this or get into ancestor worship.
- Happy Chinese New Year, Kai-lan! – eh, doesn’t do it for me. It doesn’t explain Lunar New Year very clearly. There is a subtext of where Kai-lan’s friends are going to stand in the dragon dance costume. There is just too much going on in this book for a first book on Lunar New Year.
- Lion Dancer: Ernie Wan’s Chinese New Year – I love this book too, but it is only about Lion Dancers. I read this to Danny, who wants to someday be a Lion Dancer.
- Celebrating Chinese New Year: An Activity Book This is a nice little activity book for children age 5 – 12, so I have not used it in the past, but will see what I can incorporate into this year’s presentation. I will update if I add or change things.
- Celebrate Tet – This looks like a great book that explains things in easy terms. I will have to study this before my presentation, so I can include some of the information relevant to Tet – bought used for a song.
Make Ahead – Zodiac Calendar
If you can find a poster size Zodiac Calendar to buy then that is the way to go. Something like this. If you know where to get one, please post where to find it so the rest of us can get one. I had to make one from scratch because I couldn’t find one big enough to share with a class.
I took a piece of poster cardboard and made my own Chinese Zodiac Calendar. I found images from the internet and printed them out and glued them on. It is very low-tech, it is a magic marker and little glued on pieces of paper kind of project. I could have used a compass to make the 12 sections exact, but I didn’t have one, so I approximated. I even bought a storage tube to preserve it and carry it. Something like this except I got mine locally at the Montgomery College Bookstore in Rockville, MD.
If you want to read detailed directions on how to make a poster size Lunar New Year calendar, I wrote instructions for Kid World Citizen.
Other things I had on hand
- beach ball globe
- construction paper
- red bowl (to store Mandarin oranges in)
- small toy airplane (optional – and in retrospect has caused a problem with kids wanting to play with it, I am going to skip it for Kindergarteners — I used the airplane to show the trip from Vietnam to the US)
- Tiger pupper (2010), rabbit puppet or cat puppet (2011), dog puppet, pig puppet Children in this class were born in the year of the dog, or year of the pig, dragon puppet (2012), snake puppet (2013).
- toys and musical instruments from Vietnam or Southeast Asia
- masking tape
- knife/ cutting board
- plates to serve food
- boom box (if not supplied by the teacher)
Ask the teacher to make the lanterns with the kids a couple of days before the presentation. (See stuff to get from the teacher). The teacher at school made these lanterns with the kids the class day before we celebrated Lunar New Year. The children painted them and the adults made them into lanterns. When Danny was two, they were hanging all over the classroom, but for this age, you will need to have the lanterns available for a parade at the end.
I give back all the pre-cut lanterns I have made and the sponge shapes and the handles. The teacher will have paint and will be able to get those made with the students. I also always included a prototype for her to see and to show the kids when I returned the pre-cut construction paper.
- Fill up Lucky money envelopes with chocolate coins or real coins or real paper money and label with each child’s name.
- Attach real lucky money envelopes to a letter to the parents explaining lucky money and Lunar New year, staple to the lucky money envelopes (chocolate or real money) to send home with each child in his or her backpack.
- Put 2, 6 or 8 plastic coins in each Oriental Trading Company envelope and label with names. These are to use in class. (Four is an unlucky number.)
- Make a yellow full moon and paste it on black construction paper. I actually made this out of black and yellow flexible foam sheets, the stuff you get a Michael’s and it has lasted for years.
The Presentation Day
This is a class of kindergarteners, they are 5 and 6 years old. Given a choice, I would time my presentation so that it ends just when they will have snack so that day’s snack will be the food that I brought in to share and if the children don’t want to eat what I brought to share, they will always have what their parents sent from home. But the way this class works, this is a better activity for the afternoon. I am going to have lots of participation and try to keep it to 40 minutes. I expect 20 additional minutes for eating and trying new foods at the end of the presentation.
I am going to see if I can bring stuff in during the lunch hour so I have some stuff already hung up before the presentation. I want to have placed in obvious places, (1) the red bowl of Mandarin oranges, (2) the peach blossom, (3) my paper Chinese dragon and (4) my real silk lanterns and (5) these worthless lanterns I got from Oriental Trading Company. I bought these knowing they were small, but they are so small it is ridiculous, but at the same time I have 24 of them, which I might make while watching TV and hang around the classroom. It might add a festive touch. I may bring in an old Ao Dai (Vietnamese traditional costume) and and old Chinese traditional costume and hang them on hangers around the class….. you know show and tell. Whether I can bribe Danny to wear his ao dai to a classroom where he is the only one wearing one is yet to be seen. I’m sure when we get together with other adoptive friends whose kids are wearing traditional costumes, it will not be a problem. Last year I bribed him with 5 gummy penguins from Trader Joes, I’m sure I will have to up the ante substantially for a 5 year old to wear his ao dai.
If I can get Danny to dress up in his ao dai, I will help him get into it before circle time. And before the presentation starts I ask for kids to help me hang up the “spring happiness posters” and “happy new year” signs. I have quite a few of these and it takes quite a few volunteers.
Once all of the decorations are hung up, I will start my presentation. As I write this, I’m trying to figure out the best way to weave adoption into Lunar New Year without making it a focus of the presentation.
Some of these kids can read and one of my posters says “Happy New Year” in English, plus a lot of stuff in Chinese - where I might prefer Vietnamese (you get what you get at the Oriental Trading Company). I will see if anyone can read the Happy New Year sign or if not the teacher can help the children to read it.
“Happy New Year! Wow am I late with my greeting or is this a different New Year?” I will ask the students. I think they will know it is something different because presumably the teacher would have prepared them for it and at least Danny knows it is Lunar New Year.
I may not even have to use my cutout of the moon. Some children may already know it is a holiday which celebrates the moon and the coming of Spring. I’ll tell them it starts when we have a “New Moon”, and explain what that is and ends when there is a full moon, everyone will already know what that is. I will tell them we are celebrating Lunar New Year, or Chinese New Year or in Vietnam it is called Tet. This is the time to get my inflatable globe out. I will locate the US and China and Vietnam and show them what parts of the world everyone celebrates Lunar New Year.
Here is where Bonnie Gardner helped me simplify my explanation. She suggests saying “Danny was born in Vietnam and was living in an orphanage, which is where some kids who don’t have parents live until parents can be found for them. His mom and dad lived in Maryland. They needed a boy, and Danny needed a mom and dad. So when Danny was 7 months old, his mom and dad got on an airplane and went to Vietnam to adopt him, which means we became a family. “
My longer and way too complex explanation is as follows, but she suggested I keep it in the back of my pocket in case of questions. I am including it so if you are presenting to older children or also want something in the back of your pocket, you may adapt it to your own situation. I have indented the back pocket text.
In my explanation of adoption, I am going to make sure I do not ask for kids to define it. I will define it. I really don’t want to have the conversation start off with what a random 5 year old thinks adoption is. For that matter, I don’t want some other adult to define it for me either because I might not be happy with the phrasing or the definition.
Danny was born in Vietnam. I will show where Vietnam is. I will talk about how long it took to travel there (24 hours on a plane). Danny was adopted when he was 7 months old, just a baby. When he was born, his birth mother was not able to care for him, but knew that this child would need parents who would care for him and knew he would need a family. Danny lived in an orphanage, which is a place where some children who don’t have parents live and are cared for while they wait for a family. He lived there for the first 7 months of his life while Danny’s dad and I waited over here to be able to come to Vietnam to adopt him and he would be part of our family. So we don’t look alike, but we are a family through adoption. Which means that the people in charge in both Vietnam and in the US have agreed it is in this child’s best interest to become a family with us. A forever family.
Here are some of Bonnie’s comments on my long explanation “Unless there are a lot of kids in the class with younger siblings or pregnant moms, this stuff about birth mothers is beyond most of the kids’ comprehension. And definitely the stuff about the birth mother’s adoption plan is over their heads. I’d leave out the stuff about authorities in the US and Vietnam too — that’s totally beyond what they’re able to understand. I’d just keep it very high level.” and “I also wouldn’t dwell too much on the “we don’t look alike” thing. I think it’s fine to mention it since you know one kid is hip to it, but at this age kids really don’t put that stuff together that much.”
So we celebrate holidays which they celebrate in Vietnam. And Lunar New Year, known as Tet is celebrated by everyone in Vietnam, China, and many many Asian countries and by many families here in the US. And that is the holiday we are celebrating today.
Then I will read “Bringing in the New Year”, changing things to “Lunar New Year” and ao dai instead of the Chinese name. Every time I mention something in the book, I will relate it to either the room, or to Danny. “Danny got a hair cut”. When they talk about the ao dai, Danny gets to parade around showing everyone his ao dai. And if Danny doesn’t dress up, I will have both an ao dai and an boy’s Chinese outfit with me. Next is to read “Lanterns and Firecrackers”. I pointed out the Lion Dancers and Dragon how there were people under there and they were just costumes and not real. One of the books has flowers and oranges and I will point out those things in class (which I had brought in).
Play I Spy
- I spy…. Something red — a color of good luck
- I spy …. Some lanterns to help the new year find its way
- I spy …. Some oranges to bring good luck
- I spy … some flowers to bring the spring
- I spy … some Spring Happiness Poems to welcome in the new Year
- I spy …. A dragon to scare away last year’s bad luck and bring in the new year.
- I spy …. An ao dai – new clothes to wear to our festival
- I spy …. Lucky Red envelopes which have money for children
Red Envelopes and Lion Dancer Puppet
I will explain that these are red envelopes of lucky money and you are supposed to say “Happy New Year” after you get one. I will talk about the tradition of giving red envelopes filled with money to children, but tell them these are filled with plastic money. I will also bring out my selection of noisemakers. We need the class to make noise for the lion to dance. So some can try the noisemakers while others can open their red envelopes. And now that I have the Lion Dance music on MP3 and burned on to CD, I ask the teacher to put on my Lion Dance music (#2 on the full CD) and play that while the kids feed coins to the marionette puppet. I will also have a pile of extra play coins. Hopefully these kids are not too old for my Lion Dancer marionette puppet. In the past, I moved the marionette puppet lion Dancer and said they could get more good luck by feeding the lion dancer. The kids really loved this. They could not get enough of feeding and re-feeding the lion. I make sure everyone has a chance to feed the lion. Then it is time to put this puppet and the noisemakers away.
Chinese Zodiac and More Puppets
Kids in kindergarten are learning about patterns. Danny comes home just about every day wanting to talk about patterns. This is where I am going to break out my homemade Zodiac calendar and my list of students and birthdays. I’m going to talk about how in this Chinese calendar each year is represented by a different animal until you get to 12 animals and then the pattern repeats. And each person was born under one animal. I will have the students name the animals in the calendar. I will identify the students born under the dog and talk about the dog characteristics and those born under the sign of the pig and talk about the pig. I will do a little talking about how this year is the year of the snake and what characteristics the people born this year will have. I have some of the puppets that go with the zodiac and will bring out the puppets as we name the animals. I have a pig, dog, tiger, rabbit (cat-Vietnam), dragon and my new one the snake. Then I will let the children play with my puppets.
If Time Permits – Toys from Vietnam
I have toys from Vietnam which I will show to the children, time permitting. What the children have really liked in the past is my snake on a string which I bought on the street for $1 US. It moves around with a simple mechanism. I ask the children to only pet it with a “one finger touch”, since it is made of paper. I also have some other toys to show the students.
Serving of Food
Now is the time to serve food that I have brought. I always include a lot of fruits because they are easier to try, fewer kids will be allergic and it just seem less foreign for young children. I will talk about that different food is served in different places in the world and this is some of the food you will find in Vietnam and China. I will offer 1) Mandarin oranges, 2) Mangoes, 3) Dragon fruit (and I will talk about that this fruit grows in the part of Vietnam where Danny was born, 4) Watermelon – brings good luck during Lunar New Year. 5) kumquats – given to friends and family to bring good luck. I also have some candied ginger and will offer it to the children. It is sweet and hot. I was surprised that some children wanted to try it last year. And of course I have this Vanilla roll cake which I will cut up into small portions. I will explain this is a Chinese cake. This is usually quite popular. On Lunar New Year, it is the tradition that everybody celebrates their birthday instead of on the day they were born. So this cake is to celebrate all of our birthdays. Happy Birthday! Last year I had bought some candy which I thought was gummy candy and turned out to be hard candy – which is given out during Tet, but my kid is too young for pieces of hard candy to suck on, so I will not repeat that mistake.
I cut up the dragon fruit in front of the children because it has such an interesting look both before and after it is cut up. I explain it tastes a little like Kiwi fruit, but is sweet and juicy.
The children will already have made lanterns in an earlier class with the teacher. I will ask all the children to get their lantern because one of the important things to do for Lunar New Year is to light the way for the new year. So children carry lanterns to light the way for the new year to come in. Of course I will have to check with the teacher and then she will have to check with the office to see if the children can parade around the halls or to another classroom. Or maybe they can parade to their respective buses.
Chinese Lion Dance
I don’t think we will have time for this but Danny got a Children’s Lion Dance costume last year while he was at culture camp. He would love to do this for his class, but he may have to be satisfied to be the first entertainer at his school’s upcoming International Night. And over the summer we made a homemade Joker Buddha Mask (papier mache) to go with his Lion Dance costume. The Joker Buddha is a figure who teases the lion with a fan in the performance of the dance. It is always a pretty outrageous looking person (male or female) with a pink face and blue or black hair. Here is what a commercial Big Head Buddha looks like. Asian Ideas sometimes has Lion Dance costumes you can mail order as well as eBay. Jonie Uniforms seems to have a whole line of costumes. It takes two people for the Lion Dancer costume and one person for the Joker Buddha. So that is another reason why he won’t be able to perform in class. But there is always a chance.
I heard from one parent last weekend that she has been using my lesson plan for a couple of years. I would love to hear from other parents. Have you been using my preschool lesson plan. Tell me ways you have changed it and added new things. I hate for this to be a one-way street and would love to have new ideas to incorporate into my presentation. I have actually spent a good deal of time on this post and would love to hear from readers. Thanks for reading.
Do you live in the Washington, DC area? Because here is my list of Lunar New Year Events in the DC Area.