When most children were grumbling about getting up on a Monday morning to go to school, the students in Ellen McCann’s first grade class were excited about their day. They knew that they were going to be celebrating the Chinese New Year on Jan. 30.
As the children were arriving, they hung up their coats and backpacks and were greeted by McCann and a “good luck bag.”
“We got the good luck bags because they are like the good luck envelopes that Chinese children get for New Year’s. The bags were red because that is a lucky color — and we got lollipops in them,” said first-grader Josie Brody.
The Chinese New Year is celebrated on the first day of the first moon of the lunar calendar — this typically falls somewhere between Jan. 21 and Feb. 19. The sentiments behind the Chinese New Year are similar to the Western New Year — it is a time for turning over a new leaf and saying goodbye to the old year and ushering in a new one.
In China, this holiday, more so than others, stresses the importance of family. A Chinese New Year’s family dinner is the most important of the year. Many Chinese believe your house should be thoroughly cleaned for the New Year and that you should prepare a feast for loved ones. All food needs to be prepared before the New Year so that all sharp instruments, such as knives and scissors, could be put away to avoid cutting the ‘luck’ of the New Year.
So how did McCann’s class prepare for this auspicious occasion? The 6 and 7-year-olds made Chinese New Year hats, paper lanterns using paper plates and panda bear puppets.
They have learned about the geography of the country, including the Great Wall; the culture, including stories and folktales; and the writing, with emphasis on the Chinese characters instead of letters. The students in the class got to take turns being the head of the dragon that was used to help mark this festive day.
McCann has also incorporated this lesson into her math curriculum by having the children add and subtract using the Chinese characters. “They love that students in China get to use these pictures (characters) instead of letters,” McCann said.
McCann’s classroom allows for the children to envelop themselves in the Chinese culture. She has Chinese lanterns hanging from the ceiling, bulletin boards with facts and the history of the country in pictures and words, Chinese dress up clothes in the drama area of the room and Chinese storybooks on tape playing in the background. Some selections include “The Seven Chinese Brothers,” “Lon Po Po,” (a Chinese version of Little Red Riding Hood), and Chinese Fairytales taken from the Web site Dimsumfolktales.com.
“This celebration is the kick-off for the children to learn about the Chinese culture. It takes them outside of their geodome and lets them experience and learn about a culture that is different than their own. I like to submerge them in the culture and let them think about the lives of other children around the world,” McCann said.
Gung Hay Fat Choy — Happy New Year!