Arts Integration Ideas for the Chinese New Year

8 Min Read  •  Arts Integration

The Chinese New Year is a celebration tied to the lunar-solar Chinese calendar. It is a time to honor ancestors and heavenly deities and renew family ties. Teaching Chinese culture provides many opportunities for arts integration ideas and Chinese New Years crafts: visual art (masks, kites, paper making, silk, scroll art, calligraphy, sculpture, etc.),  performance art (Chinese Opera, face mask changing, dragon dance), the list goes on and on!

One way to incorporate Chinese New Year as an extension of an elementary social studies curriculum is through a short study on Ancient China. This unit of study typically falls around the time when some ELA curriculum includes Ed Young’s Chinese folktale Lon Po Po: A Red-Riding Hood Tale From China as a literature study, making a perfect thematic tie-in between ELA and social studies.

When there are so many possible integration ideas, it can be difficult to choose which direction to take, and sometimes lessons and units can become too large. When this happens, not only is it overwhelming for the teacher but sometimes we lose sight of the original objective. The unit becomes based on all of the projects and activities instead of constantly circling back to the essential question or big idea we want the students to retain.

To help focus, collaboration with an expert can help. You can share your ideas for an Ancient China unit with your school’s art teacher to see if they are willing to collaborate. If so, they can explain the art skills and standards addressed through the artwork students would be creating. This information allows you to support the art curriculum during your lessons, and students would be able to focus on the art when they were in art class because they would have the prerequisite social studies background knowledge.

In addition, you can extend some of your other arts integration ideas during a separate ELA class with the same students. The overall topic can be the same, but you’re essentially working through two separate, yet related, arts integration ideas at once.

Higher-level students really grasp the connections between the two projects and it can deepen their understanding of Chinese culture. It can help your lower-level students because subjects aren’t as “siloed”; there is a natural flow from subject to subject. This can alleviate some transitions for them and help build connections as well. Here’s how you can start to implement this process:

During Art Class

In art, students learn the concept of proportion. They work with proportion while creating Chinese Opera Masks based on the art of ancient Chinese face mask changing. Students are always fascinated by the magical ability that these performance artists demonstrate, which adds context and engagement while they create their own mask. Here are a few related resources:

During Social Studies

During this class, students explore basic information about Ancient China. The unit is broken down into the following topics. Each could be developed into a full unit on its own, but the teacher’s task is to give an overview of the topic so that the students are introduced to, rather than mastering, the complex history and culture of Ancient China.

You can use the resources linked below in addition to WebQuests, articles with graphic organizers, video clips, and activities to share this information with students. It seems like a lot, but again, it is an overview. You’ll spend about two class sessions on each topic.

  1. The Geography: Where China is located, the basic landforms and geographic features of the land, the Great Wall of China.
  2. The History: The major dynasties of China, history of the writing system, the art of Chinese calligraphy
  3. The Government: How the Han dynasty affected the government of ancient China, nobles and emperors, the Terra Cotta Warriors
  4. Economics: a brief study of the Silk Road and Chinese currency
  5. Culture: The importance of tradition in the Chinese culture, Chinese New Year.

During English/Language Arts (ELA)

After the analysis of Lon Po Po: A Red-Riding Hood Tale From China, read about the artist and author Ed Young, Chinese-born American. Briefly compare this tale to the American version of Little Red-Riding-Hood and use the text as an opportunity to emphasize text-based evidence through this activity.

Closely examine the illustrations using the strategy See Think Wonder. Then, discuss how the illustrations help to convey and support the mood and theme of the text and discuss techniques Ed Young used to achieve that.

This leads us to the history of Chinese art since the illustrations are uniquely painted in panels. Share this video related to Ancient Chinese Scroll Art, and use the background knowledge from social studies to create your own scroll art similar to the work described here. You could also extend this to allow students to use their landscape scroll art to become the setting of an original folktale.

Arts Integration Ideas: Reaching our Goal

Even with our scaled-back intentions, there is still a lot going on. However, the goal is to expose students to Ancient Chinese culture while integrating art standards, and you can start each class session by circling back to that essential understanding with students.

There are so many other ways you can use Ancient Chinese arts to integrate these standards, but it is nice to have some alternatives to swap in for future years if the needs of those students are different or if you want to try something new.