“Learning is a treasure that will follow its owner everywhere.” — Chinese Proverb
The Lunar New Year, a celebration which takes place between January 21st and February 20th , is a special time that the children I have taught truly enjoy celebrating. Each year has been an opportunity to explore a variety of learning experiences, including cooking and tasting stir fried vegetables, reading books like Sam and the Lucky Money by Karen Chinn, and making paper lanterns. More recently, we have been experimenting with sumi-e painting (an art experience recommended in the book Children and Painting by Cathy Weisman Topal, as a precursor to watercolour painting, particularly for practising brush strokes). Children can try to paint the Four Gentlemen (or The Four Noble Ones), which are plants: the plum blossom, the orchid, the bamboo, and the chrysanthemum. In addition to being a beautiful art experience, sumi-e encourages children be calm and to practise doing something in a slow and meditative way.
One of their very favourite things to do is to put on costumes, and prepare to do the
Lion, or Dragon dance for the other children. This year we have been preparing a song (one that I learned from another teacher a few years back) called Song of the Dragon, which is based on a traditional Chinese folk song. For those who can read music, the melody can be found here. In order to teach the children the song, the words were written on chart paper. We then added different instruments, such as chime bars, rhythm sticks, triangle, and tambourine, as well as body percussion, to truly bring the song to life. In the photograph, the triangles indicate where that instrument should be played. Where the groupings of five lines are, the children should clap their hands, or tap the rhythm sticks five times. The rhythm pattern should sound like the words “macaroni pie”! The chime bars I selected are the first and fifth notes of the F major scale (F and C, or do and sol); playing these notes throughout the piece helps the children sing in tune. It is very exciting to teach children to use pitched and non-pitched percussion instruments, and to try to add different layers of sound to this simple, but beautiful song.
Interestingly, Lunar New Year is happening very close to the 100th Day celebration at school. Last year, in the Year of the Monkey, I got the idea of making a dragon with one hundred legs, as an extension of the poem, Song of the Dragon. I decorated a number of paper plates, to which I affixed pipe cleaner legs (10 per paper plate), and added assorted colours, details, images and characters to make it more eye-catching and festive. It has the potential to be a great activity to share and enjoy with the children you teach because it is a very easy and fun way to combine poetry, music and numeracy in a way that honours a traditional Asian celebration. What other ideas could you try with your children? I wish you all both a Happy 100th Day, and a Happy Lunar New Year! Gung Hay Fat Choy!