Chinese New Year is a huge festival celebrated in China and many other parts of the world.
A time to welcome good luck and good fortune, the Chinese see the New Year as an opportunity to leave the past behind, let go of unnecessary clutter and prepare for new experiences that lie ahead.
This involves many age-old traditions and rituals, such as sweeping their house clean, throwing away old clothes and buying new ones, and even getting a haircut.
Chinese people also often give gifts to friends and family members and hold big celebrations with special foods, music, dancing and firecrackers.
Chinese New Year Activities
Now is a great time for teachers and parents to start teaching children about Chinese New Year. There are lots of ways to do this, including telling stories and allowing the children or students to ask lots of questions and discuss.
However there are also tons of great Chinese New Year activities that enable children to learn about this culturally rich celebration as well as develop their creativity, co-ordination and crafting skills.
Many of our activities listed below are Chinese New Year crafts that involve making something beautiful, like hand-made decorations to take home or decorate the classroom with. Others are simple activities that allow the children to learn about Chinese New Year traditions and rituals.
Make your own dancing dragons
The Chinese dragon is the ultimate symbol of Chinese New Year. You’ll often see them at parades or as paintings. They symbolise power and are often coloured red, which symbolises fire and luck.
Why not let your children celebrate by making this easy paper dancing dragon? They can be designed and coloured any way they want and require just a few simple materials. This activity will help improve their cutting skills and once made, they will love making them dance!
- Start by printing out our Chinese Dragon downloadable template below.
- Have the children colour in their dragon any way they wish.
- Cut out the dragon’s head, tail and feet.
- Feel free to embellish the head and tail with feathers, ribbons, crepe paper streamers or anything else you feel like! You can use tape, paper glue or glue stickers to secure any embellishments.
- Tape either a lolly stick or barbecue skewer to either end of the dragon (on its head and tail). You may wish to be supervise if using the skewers and ensure any sharp edges are taped down.
- Make the dragon’s body by cutting a strip of coloured construction paper and folding it in an accordion style. If you’re up for the challenge, you may even wish to use two differently coloured strips of paper to make this lovely accordion garland style body.
- Affix the head and the tail to either end of the accordion body. Don’t forget to attach the feet too!
- There you have it! Your very own dancing Chinese dragon.
Tell the Story of the Rat
2020 is the official Year of the Rat. Share the story of the Rat Wedding with your children, which is a famous story depicted by artists in China.
The story is about two ambitious rat parents who are looking for a husband for their daughter. But, as with any overly pretentious parents, things end up backfiring. In the main version of the story, the daughter rat ends up being married to a wealthy bachelor rat, and all ends happily ever after. But in the second version, her parents discover a cat is more powerful and have her marry him instead, before he promptly eats her!
Let students/children predict what the ending of their story will be before you tell it. You can even have them write their own ending as a creative writing exercise, or re-tell the traditional story with these adorable hand-made rat finger puppets (tutorial found on Red Ted Art).
Decorate with some Chinese Lanterns
Chinese lanterns are an ancient part of Chinese New Year, used to decorate streets and hang in people’s homes. Making your own paper Chinese lanterns is a fantastic craft activity and the lanterns can be used to decorate the classroom or assembly hall.
- Make the stencil by folding a sheet of square paper diagonally into a triangle, then again into a smaller triangle. Fold the two ends in towards the middle as shown in the video above to get an irregular kite-like shape.
- Using a ruler, draw a line from the topmost point of the folded paper to the bottom. Draw a leaf/petal shape from the bottom point up to the edge of folded paper. Cut around the petal shape to get rid of the excess paper and unfold the petal to get your stencil.
- Draw around the stencil on some red construction paper/card. Add small circles at the end of each petal.
- Punch a hold in the centre of the template using a thumbtack and use a needle to thread some gold tassel through the hole (can also use ribbon). Secure with a small knot. (You may wish to leave this part to the adults for very young children.)
- Gentle curl each petal upwards in a ‘C’ shape. Use a thumbtack to punch a hole in the small circle at each end. Using the needle and thread again, pull the thread through each hole and draw them together so that all of the petals meet at the top.
- Use the rest of the thread to hang up your Chinese lantern! Encourage the children to decorate them with gold leaf pen, adding Chinese symbols or whatever other designs they want.
Tip: If making the stencils is too tricky for younger children, these lanterns can also be made using strips of paper as in this tutorial by NurtureStore.
Solve tangram puzzles
Tangram puzzles are a popular Chinese puzzle invented in the Song Dynasty (970-1279 CE). They are made up of a square divided into seven geometric shapes – five triangles, a smaller square and a parallelogram. Traditionally made of either wood, ivory and metal, the shapes can be rearranged to create a variety of shapes and pictures.
Using our printable template, why not let the children design their own tangram shapes? Simply colour them in, cut them out and get creative. You can offer the children some templates of the 12 Chinese New Year animals to get inspired, or let them come up with their own pictures.
The finished designs can be stuck onto card and displayed around the classroom.
Craft some Chinese New Year candle holders
This activity not only lets you create a beautiful decoration; it’s also great for reusing empty jars! Why not ask the children to bring their own jars from home (if doing this activity at school) to encourage recycling.
Here’s how to make your Chinese lantern candle holder:
- Tear some red tissue paper (non-bleeding) into small pieces.
- Dilute one part white or clear glue with one part water. Dip a paintbrush into the glue mixture and use it to paste a piece of tissue paper onto the side of the jar, including over the top and around the edges (like paper mache).
- Keep going until you have covered the whole of the outside of the jar with red tissue paper. You may wish to do more than one layer to get the best effect. Let the tissue paper go over the jar’s mouth and then set it aside to dry.
- Once dried, use scissors to trim off the excess tissue along the jar’s mouth.
- Use either some black acrylic paint or a black marker pen to make a border around the rim of the jar’s mouth. You can also decorate the jar along the sides by painting Chinese symbols or other designs.
- Use your candle holder by lighting a tealight and placing inside the jar! (As always when using candles, adult supervision is required.)
Tutorial & images originally from First Palette.
Cook some traditional vegetable dumplings
Chinese dumplings are a traditional food commonly enjoyed on Chinese New Year. Many families spend time together before midnight preparing and wrapping the dumplings, which signifies sending away the old and welcoming in the new.
Dumplings can have any variety of fillings, including Chinese cabbage, green onions, pork, shrimp, bamboo and egg. Different ingredients mean different things; for example, egg symbolises gold while the meat and bamboo strip mean that everything needed will be available.
The dumplings themselves resemble silver shoe-shaped ingots – an early form of Chinese currency.
Traditional Chinese dumplings are an easy recipe to make with your children or students. Here’s a simple recipe for some vegetable dumplings from The Woks of Life. To save time and effort, you can use pre-made store-bought dumpling wrappers.
Makes: about 20 dumplings
Time: 10 mins
- 2-3 packs of Chinese dumpling wrappers (alternatively you can make your own)
- 3 tbsp oil, plus 1/4 cup
- 1 tbsp minced ginger
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 2 cups shiitake mushrooms, chopped
- 1 and 1/2 cups cabbage, finely shredded
- 1 and 1/2 cups carrot, finely shredded
- 1 cup garlic chives (Chinese chives), finely chopped
- 1/2 tsp white pepper
- 2 tsp sesame oil
- 3 tbsp Shaoxing wine
- 2 tbsp soy sauce
- 1 tsp sugar
- Salt to taste
- In a wok or large skillet over medium-high heat, add 3 tbsp oil and the ginger. Cook for 30 seconds until fragrant, then add the onions and stir-fry until translucent.
- Add chopped mushrooms and stir-fry for another 3-5 minutes, until the mushrooms are tender and any liquid has cooked off.
- Add cabbage and carrots and stir-fry for another two minutes until the veggies are tender. Transfer the vegetable mixture to a large mixing bowl and allow to cool.
- Once the mixture has cooled, add the chopped chives, white pepper, sesame oil, Shaoxing wine, soy sauce and sugar. Taste to see if it needs more salt and add if necessary (you can invite the children to taste). Stir in the last 1/4 cup oil.
- Take a circle dumpling wrapper and dampen the edges with a little bowl of water. Place less than a tablespoon of filling in the middle.
6. Pinch the wrapper in half at a point in the middle, then fold the skins over twice on each side. Children may need a little practice to get this right but with help they should get it. Let them enjoy the process and keep going with each wrapper until all the filling is gone.
7. To cook the dumplings, you can steam, fry or boil them. Steaming and boiling is healthier and doesn’t involve spattering oil. If available, use a steamer basket to place the dumplings in or bring a large pot of water to a boil and throw the dumplings in there. Once they float to the top and start to look transparent, they’re done.
8. Allow the children to taste the dumplings and serve them with some different dipping sauces – soy sauce, sweet chilli sauce, sweet & sour sauce and so on.
Fold your own paper fortune cookies
Fortune cookies are a traditional part of Chinese culture and are normally served after a meal. Folding your own paper fortune cookies makes a great crafts activity and the children will love coming up with their own fortunes to put inside!
- Use some colourful scrapbook paper (let the children choose which colours/patterns they’d like to use for their fortune cookies)
- Trace 3.5 – 4 inch circles on the back of the scrapbook paper and cut them out (you can use a lid to draw around or use a rotary paper cutter).
- Take one of the circles and gently fold it in half. Smooth out a hard crease on just the centre inch or so of the fold.
- Open the circle up and fold it in half the opposite way. The small crease you made should now be running perpendicular to the new fold.
- Gently push the fold inward with your index finger, while using your thumb and middle finger to bring both ends together.
- Get the children to write their chosen fortunes on small 0.5 x 3 inch strips of paper. Slip the fortunes into the opening on one side before bringing both ends completely together. Use some glue or a sticky glue dot near the fold to secure the paper fortune cookie closed.
- Have the children swap fortune cookies with one another or take them home to friends and family. They could even swap them with another class who is also learning about Chinese New Year.
Hang Paper Oranges
Tangerines and oranges are two of the most common food symbols of Chinese New Year, due to the similarity of the Chinese words for tangerine and gold. Tangerines are a symbol of wealth whilst oranges represent good luck.
During Chinese New Year, tangerines and oranges are displayed as decorations and also exchanged among friends and acquaintances. When giving these fruits as gifts, offer them with both hands. It is polite for the recipient to refuse at first, so keep trying!
Why not encourage your children to bring in a tangerine or orange to school to exchange with a friend, or even another class? You could even distribute some of the fruits as snacks while teaching your Chinese New Year lesson, or whilst making these hanging paper citrus fruits (tutorial below).
- Cut a piece of A3/A4 orange construction paper in half. Fold each half in an accordion-style pattern.
- Align the ends of each accordion-folded piece of paper together and staple them in the middle so they are joined.
- Pull down the bottom of each side so it fans out and glue the sides together where they meet at the bottom. (You can also use sticky glue dots so you don’t have to wait for the glue to dry.) Do the same with the top of your orange.
- Now you have almost a circle, but with two spaces either side. Glue one side together, but leave the other open to add leaves.
- Using some folded green paper/card, draw and cut out a leaf shape. You should then have two matching leaves.
- Glue one leaf onto the open side of the orange.
- Cut a piece of brown yarn or string for hanging your orange. Tie it into a loop and glue the bottom onto the glued leaf.
- Glue the second green leaf on top of the yarn.
- Now glue the back of the second leaf to the orange side to finish your circle.
- Fold the edges of your green leaves down so they are more visible from the front and back.
- Now hang your New Year decoration! You can make varying sizes to indicate both oranges and tangerines.
Tutorial & images originally from Buggy & Buddy.
Re-enact the zodiac story
The Chinese Zodiac story involves 12 animals and why they came to be in the order they are in in the Chinese calendar.
Chinese children are often told the story of the Jade Emperor, who wanted a new way to measure time. He invited all of the animals to take part in a swimming race, and the first 12 animals across the river would each have a year of the Zodiac named after them.
The rat came first, after he convinced the ox to let him climb atop his back and carry him across the river. Once over the other side, he leapt onto the bank to finish first, followed closely by the diligent Ox.
They were later followed by the tiger, rabbit, dragon, horse, sheep/goat, monkey, dog and the pig/boar. This is the same order that the animals remain in the Chinese Zodiac today.
Begin by sharing the story of the Zodiac with your children at home or in class. Then, re-enact the story by allowing 12 children to role-play each animal, and have another be the Jade Emperor. You can have the children work as a class or in groups, and perform this to each other or as part of a Chinese New Year assembly. The children can also dress up or make their own animal masks as an extra activity.
Wear something red
Red is a main theme at Chinese New Year as it represents joy, good luck and fire, which was used to scare away spirits of bad fortune. Many Chinese people wear red and other brightly coloured clothes on New Year’s Day.
Why not invite your children to wear something red to school for Chinese New Year? This could be a scarf, hat, badge, headband, t-shirt or jumper.
Take the Chinese NY quiz
Finally – test your children’s Chinese New Year knowledge with our fun and friendly quiz! You could ask the children to participate individually, or split them into groups to exercise some team spirit.
The winning team could receive a themed prize – such as chocolate coins in a lucky red envelope or a a traditional treat like walnut cookies or sesame seed balls.