Celebrating the Lunar New Year with Little Ones: Fun and Educational Activities for Children Under Five

February 21, 2024

Happy Year of the Dragon, educators and parents! Now that festivities have begun, this is a wonderful opportunity to introduce young children to the rich traditions and customs associated with the Chinese New Year. Explore age-appropriate books, activities, recipes, and more to acknowledge and celebrate this over 4,000-year-old cultural holiday.

Understanding the 2024 Lunar New Year:

  • Little Year marks the preparation for the Lunar New Year. During this time, people clean their house to “sweep away bad luck” as they enter the new year. Families also cook sugar melons, also known as stove candy, to help bring good health and fortune to the household during the year.
  • On New Year’s Eve, families meet for the most important meal of the year: the reunion dinner. Everyone feasts and stays up late to welcome in the new year.
  • The Spring Festival begins with firecrackers and the day is filled with greetings and blessings between family and neighbors. Traditionally, people are forbidden to clean during this day to avoid sweeping away good fortune.
  • The remaining days of Spring Festival are a celebration of family, health, good fortune, and more.
  • To conclude the Lunar New Year, celebrators purchase and construct lanterns to light for the Lantern Festival, which always occurs during a full moon. Families decorate lanterns with riddles and wishes for the new year. They also typically create glutinous rice balls for dessert, which represent reunions.

The Lunar New Year celebration is rich with tradition, cultural beliefs, and symbolic food. Learn more about each phase of the Lunar New Year on http://www.chinesenewyear.net/.

Asian American children’s books author Helen H. Wu also highlights 15 Children’s Books about the Lunar New Year that can help educators and parents introduce the Lunar New Year to young children. Pick one to read during your upcoming story time!

Discover the Zodiac Animal of the Year: The Dragon

Prior to highlighting the dragon, introduce the Chinese zodiac to young children by discussing the Great Race origin story. Twinkl Educational Publishing’s age-appropriate, illustrated version is a wonderful place to start.

Now let’s dive into the 2024 zodiac animal, the Dragon! Dragons are seen as very lucky and powerful in the Chinese zodiac. They are ambitious dreamers and pursue adventure throughout their entire lives, making them a wonderful animal to explore with your little ones. Ready to celebrate the dragon?

  • Try a craft! Tinybeans offers 11 Easy Dragon Crafts to complete with and for young children.
  • Read a book! The Year of the Dragon: Tales from the Chinese Zodiac by Oliver Chin is a bilingual story that follows Dominic as he goes on a unique quest to discover his own character. It’s an entertaining coming of age story in a 12-part book series, each highlighting a different animal from the Chinese zodiac. 

Tastes of the Lunar New Year: Explore Traditional Foods

The Lunar New Year features many symbolic food items throughout the weeks-long celebrations. Introduce some of them to your little ones by trying recipes or pre-made versions of the foods below:

  • Dumplings are abundant during Lunar New Year celebrations because they symbolize saying goodbye to the old and welcoming the new. Try this recipe at home and let your little one help you roll out dough, add filling, and pinch the dumplings shut.
  • Spring rolls are common, as well, and represent the coming of spring. Since spring rolls are fried, we recommend parents and educators pre-make or purchase these to share with and ensure the safety of young children.
  • Noodles represent longevity and prosperity. The longer the noodle, the better, when it comes to this tradition. Slurping is also common to highlight how long the noodles are. So, make your favorite noodle dishes for your little ones and make dinner time fun with a little noise and laughter.
  • Tang Yuan Rice Balls not only represent togetherness and family reunion, but they are also easy and fun to make with young children. Explore Mama Baby Mandarin’s recipe for making this dessert with the little ones in your life.
  • Tangerines are symbolic of success, good fortune, and abundance. Peel and share one with your family for a healthy, sweet snack to celebrate the new year!

“Light Up” the New Year: Facilitate a Lantern Craft and Parade

There are many ways for young children to make lanterns, depending on their age and capabilities. Happy Toddler Playtime offers 10 Chinese Lantern Crafts to celebrate the New Year, including templates and how-to instructions to make these activities easy in the classroom and at home. Make them with your little ones and have them showcase their creations in a parade!

Red Envelope Surprise: Teaching Generosity

Giving and receiving red envelopes (hóngbāo) for family and friends represents good wishes and luck for the year ahead. They are typically filled with money and given to family and friends during the new year celebrations. Some fun facts about hóngbāo:

  • Only clean, crisp notes are put into red envelopes. Old and crumpled bills are frowned upon in the tradition.
  • Four is considered an unlucky number, so money is never given in amounts that include the number. Instead, many amounts include the number eight as it represents luck and prosperity.
  • Envelopes are accepted with both hands, not just one, and shouldn’t be opened in front of the person giving it to you.
  • The envelopes are red because red is associated with good luck and blessings in Chinese culture.

You can learn more about red envelopes and how the Lunar New Year is celebrated in various parts of Asia at Google’s Arts of the New Moon Project.

Celebrate the generosity and spirit of giving behind this tradition by having young children decorate red envelopes with gold paint and glitter, filling it with chocolate gold coins, and encouraging them to share their creations with friends or loved ones.

Cultural Education Fosters Inclusivity

Teaching young children about different celebrations and traditions encourages the appreciation, acceptance, and inclusion of others. Through fun activities, education, and conversation, your little ones can discover the significance of the Lunar New Year in Chinese culture. To those who do recognize and celebrate, Happy Chinese New Year! 心想事成, 万事如意 – “May all your wishes come true and go well with you.”


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