Growing up in Singapore, in a traditional Chinese family, Chinese New Year has always been a huge thing for my family and relatives. My house would be decked in Chinese New Year decor. My parents would buy plants way before Chinese New Year just so they can blossom in time and my dad would tie little red ribbons around the flowers. We would shop for Chinese New Year goodies, hopping from one Chinese New Year fair to another, sampling the different kinds of goodies and eventually lugging back bags of them. When Chinese New Year rolls around, we would all be in our new clothes going visiting from house to house, and of course receiving red packets from our relatives. It was truly great fun and made up a huge part of my childhood.
I wanted the same for my children. But more importantly, in the midst of it all, I want them to always remember their Chinese roots, to be aware of the different kinds of Chinese traditions, and to be proud of their culture and heritage. In a country like Singapore where we have huge Western influence (tv shows, books etc), and where the majority of the younger generations converse mainly in English, it becomes even more important and essential to ingrain these in the children from young. And what better way to do these than through fun activities during the Chinese New Year season!
Here are 8 fun activities for you to carry out with your kids!
Count the Golden Coins!
This activity is a great way to recycle the red packets that you have, and it’s also easy to carry out and simple to set up! I bought a chest of golden coins (chocolate coins) for this activity, and label each red packet with black dots from 1 to 10. Then simply get your kid to count and place the right number of coins into each red packet according to the number of dots.
For older kids who can recognise numerals, instead of labelling with black dots, write the numbers 1 to 10 on each red packet. Want to incorporate some fine motor work into this? Give them a pair of tongs or chopsticks to pick up those golden coins!
Skills: Numeracy (one to one correspondence), Number recognition, Fine motor skills
Prosperity Toss, or ‘Lao Yusheng’
Prosperity toss is a huge and longtime tradition of how Singaporeans celebrate Chinese New Year. You put different ingredients (in a particular order) onto the plate, and everyone tosses the ingredients together (mostly in a rather rowdy but fun manner) while shouting Chinese blessings. It’s no wonder it’s a favorite amongst kids too! Google prosperity toss and you will see what ingredients and Chinese blessings are involved in this tradition.
Introduce this fun tradition to your child by role playing it at home! When my boy was 2 years old, we gave him a stack of colored paper and let him tear them into strips of paper (little kids love tearing up paper, don’t they!). We gave him a pair of chopsticks which he used to toss those paper up in the air while we said each Chinese blessing for him!
When he was 3 years old, we did the same activity again, but modified for his age. I drew straight lines on some colored paper, and squiggly lines on others, and instead of tearing them up, he would use a pair of scissors to cut along the lines. I also provided him yellow and black paper dots (hole-punched out of colored paper) to represent oil and pepper respectively. This time round, he shouted the Chinese blessings with us!
Skills: Pretend play, Fine motor skills, Language (Mandarin)
Match the Red Packets!
Red packets (or affectionately known as angbaos) play a huge integral part in the Chinese New Year traditions! Also one of the main reasons (aside from those yummy snacks) why children look forward to Chinese New Year so much. This activity is a great way to introduce angbaos, as well as recycle those angbaos that we had collected during Chinese New Year visiting.
Skills: Form recognition, Cognitive thinking
The Hungry Dragon
Have excess egg cartons lying around? Use them to make this hungry red dragon! I have a short video tutorial of how to make this red dragon on my Instagram (@popsicles_play), the post is dated 4 Feb 2019. I had a mini competition with my boy on who can get the dragon to ‘eat up’ more oranges, and I got him to count the number of oranges after.
Skills: Numeracy (counting), Pretend play
Let’s Greet Each Other
In creating this set up, I’ve used one color for each popular Chinese New Year greeting - red for 大吉大利 (wishing you good fortune), orange for 新年快乐 (happy new year), yellow for 恭喜发财 (wishing you greater wealth). Differentiating the different greetings using colors will help your kid to match the chip to the right Chinese character. If he is already very familiar with Chinese characters, make it more challenging by using the same color across all the greetings!
The chips are circular pieces cut out from cardboard, with dot stickers pasted on top, and Chinese characters written on each to match the Chinese greetings written on the cardboard box. When my boy picked a chip from the box, I guided him by asking him to first match it to the color “is it red, orange or yellow?” Once he had done his color recognition, I asked him again “so which of these characters of that color look like the one on your chip?” Through this 2-step process, he’s able to correctly match the chip and drop it into the right hole. In the midst of carrying out this activity, do also explain to your child what each greeting means!
Skills: Color recognition, Language (Mandarin)
Sensory Play - Salt Writing
Salt writing is a really fun and creative way of learning how to write. I used this activity to introduce writing Chinese characters to my boy. Of course, you can also use this to introduce writing alphabets, numbers or even drawing! We put a small twist to salt writing here by printing rainbow-colored paper and pasting it at the bottom of the sensory tub before filling it with salt. I’ve chosen to give him a brush to do this, but your kid can also use his fingers! I lay out the small printed cards of 1-10 in English and Mandarin, and got my boy to choose a card at each time and write the number/character in the salt.
Here are 3 more ways of playing with the salt tray! 1) We repeated the activity by reversing the order. Instead of picking a card and getting my boy to write what he saw, I wrote random numbers/characters in the tub and got him to match the card to the number/character which I had written. 2) When he got tired of all the salt writing, he started drawing in the sensory tub of salt. 3) Or simply use it for sensory play, provide some cups and containers, spoons and scoops, and you’re ready to go!
Skills: Sensory play, Writing, Language, Creativity, Number recognition
The Great Zodiac Race
We made this zodiac wheel from a paper plate (the printable is available for download in the link which I’ll provide at the end of this post). We spun the zodiac wheel, identified the animal from the pile of cards and placed it on the race template. I asked my boy which animal is his favorite and he said “Rat because it’s number 1!” This is a great activity to introduce the 12 different zodiac animals to your child. We borrowed “The Great Race” book from the local library and read it along with this activity.
Do you have the animal figurines of these 12 zodiacs at home? Use them to carry out pretend play with the child, you can role play “The Great Race” as well!
Skills: Cognitive thinking, Form recognition, Pretend play
Create Chinese New Year Blossoms
Simply print out this bare blossom tree (the printable is available for download in the link which I’ll provide at the end of this post), and provide your child dot stickers and/or dot markers. Then give him free rein to create his very own Chinese New Year blossoms!
Skills: Creativity, Fine motor skills
So that’s 8 fun activities for you to carry out at home with your child to introduce Chinese New Year traditions and learn Chinese characters at the same time!
Some of the materials used in the above activities are available for download in printables. Please click here to access this resource. Do also check out our Facebook (popsiclesandplay) and Instagram (@popsicles_play) for more play-based learning activities!