Friday, January 17, 2014

Are you introducing your children to cultures around the world? This post contains geography ideas for a unit study on China for children of elementary school age – between 6 and 10.


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Why China?

In two weeks China and other countries following the lunisolar calendar will celebrate New Year. While we have no heritage connection to China, I am fascinated by its rich culture and its impact on the Western world. We have read dozens of books about China and returned there in our virtual journeys several times over the past few years, with most recent “visit” happening last summer. I chose a lucky Chinese number of 8 to share how you and your children can learn more about this amazing country.

Look What Came From China

Look What Came from China
Sometimes we go sailing with our friends on San Francisco Bay and see huge container ships coming from China. What are they bringing? Look carefully with your children at their toys and personal belongings and see how many things in your house came from China. If you have older children, you can also discuss whether it’s a good thing that so many things that we take for granted are not produced domestically. It’s also a good time to ask children to guess what things were invented in China long time ago and read a non-fiction book Look What Came From China! by Miles Harvey.

1. Books About China

Bringing In New Year The Warlord Beads Where the Mountain Meets the Moon
Over years we read very many good books set in China. I chose to pick three books from this very long list for three different age groups:
  • Kids ages 3-5 will enjoy short and colorful picture books by Grace Lin like Bringing In the New Year. These books will also work for beginner readers.
  • The Warlord’s Series books by Virginia Pilegard are better suited for solid independent readers (age 6-8). They also provide great tie-ins with math and/or science activities.
  • Amazingly, the same Grace Lin wrote a beautiful novel for middle grade students and advanced young readers. We read Where the Mountain Meets the Moon together when Smarty was younger, and she reread it several times since.
You can search my blog with China search word for more books about China. Also, just in time for New Year, Erica at What Do We Do All Day shares a fantastic list of Chinese Folk Tales for Kids.

2. Chinese Math Tools

Exploring Tangrams
I am not surprised that Chinese students beat the rest of the world in math test scores. After all, China has a long history in math – an abacus and tangrams come to mind right away. We tried tangrams several times already, but daughter is still finding them too hard to do without looking up an answer. But even so, she enjoyed books about tangrams (all of which contain solved tangrams). I ordered them by readers’ age – from youngest to oldest.
Wolf and Three Pigs Warlord Puzzle

3. Chinese Food

Fortune Cookies
Chinese Food is popular around the world. We cook simple Chinese dishes at home quite often, but last year we attempted to make homemade fortune cookies for Chinese New Year with mixed success. One of my most popular pins is a Chicken Chow Mein recipe from my blog friend Marie who spent the whole year learning more about China with her two daughters and documented this virtual journey on her blog Marie’s Pastiche.

4. Games

Playing Dominoes
We are big fans of board games and have a few beautifully made Chinese games at home, such as Chinese Chess and Chinese Checkers, but our daughter is still a little young for them. She does like to play dominoes – another game that originated in China.

5. Science Experiments

Making Paper
It’s not difficult to include science in your China study. So many amazing inventions came from China – silk, paper, gun powder, a compass. Our own experiment in making recycled paper was fun as a process, but the results were disappointing (paper ended up being too sick). MaryAnne at Mama Smiles: Joyful Parenting had a much better outcome when she tried paper making with her children.

6. Attend Community Events

  Community Events
We are lucky to live in Silicon Valley – one of the most ethnically diverse areas in the United States. It would be a shame not to take advantage of all the opportunities offered for free or nearly for free by local cultural centers and communities. Even if your community is not as diverse, you might find that your local libraries or churches sponsor cultural events. This picture above was taken during Harvest Moon Festival where we got to try calligraphy, listened to traditional Chinese instruments and watched a Dragon Dance.

7. Arts and Crafts

Great Wall of China
On the net you can find many wonderful places that provide a lot of craft ideas for China. Pinterest is an obvious choice, and I also like to browse The Crafty Crow while admiring creativity of my fellow bloggers and knowing that all that is not going to happen here. When my daughter wants to do an art project, she insists on doing it her way, like this Great Wall of China out of Model Magic. And this is why her Great Wall is absolutely unique and one of my best memories from our summer China unit.

8. Put Together a Simple Lapbook

China Lapbook
We spent so much time “in China” this summer that I wanted to capture some of the things we did in a China lapbook. It is not fancy, but it could be a great memory and might even encourage your children to do some lapbooking on their own in the future.

More Resources About China

Follow my Pinterest China Board: Follow Natalie Planet Smarty Pants's board China on Pinterest.

Your Turn

Are you doing anything special to celebrate Chinese New Year? If yes, is it because you are connected to China or other Asian countries by heritage or because you and your children want to learn more about other cultures?
If you share your resources in comments, I will add a resource section to this post and link yours. I will also link them to my China Pinterest board.


Phyllis said...

We love celebrating Chinese New Year's too! We are just started to learn Chinese Chess this week! I am sure that you do have a lot of good opportunities for community events where you live. We do not have a Chinese community near by here.

Erica MomandKiddo said...

I had no idea dominoes originated in China!

Ticia said...

I always forget to do anything for Chinese New Year.

I love Chinese food, probably because my parents spent a few years overseas in Asia, and so we ate a lot of it growing up. By contrast, my daughter can't stand it, and groans whenever I make it.

I need to pick up a copy of Chinese Checkers, my kids would probably like it.

maryanne @ mama smiles said...

What a wonderful list of activities! I am excited to celebrate Chinese New Year in Silicon Valley this year!

Jeanette Nyberg said...

Oh, I keep meaning to get Chinese Checkers, too! This post is chock-full of great ideas!

Shannen Espelien said...

Hopping over from the Thoughtful Spot Weekly Blog Hop! I love these ideas! My husband might go to China this year for work, so it'll be fun to use some of your ideas to introduce China to my 3 year old. Thanks!

Singing Time - Early Childhood Music Teacher said...

I found your great post via Deb Chitwood.
I just wrote a post for PreK and K Sharing Blogspot on celebrating Chinese New Year.
I'd love to hear from you!

Singing Time - Early Childhood Music Teacher said...

I just found your great post via Deb Chitwood.
You might be interested in my Pre-K and K Sharing blogpost on Chinese New Year: I'd love to hear from you.

Carrie said...

What a wonderful post!! So much information and ideas!! Thank you for sharing at Sharing Saturday!

Marie-Claude Leroux said...

What a great overview! China is such a rich culture. Thanks for the mention :)

Jennifer Fischer said...

I love your book suggestions and activities. I featured this post on the Weekly Kid's Co-Op this week:

Marie-Claude Leroux said...

Thanks for linking up your Chinese posts at the Chinese Activities Link up Natalie! - this post is such a great overview :)

shelah moss said...

What a rich learning unit on China. I liked the fortune cookies. They are hard to get just right, aren't they?

Kylie said...

Oh this is wonderful, I'm sharing now :-) Brings back memories from our China unit, although we placed our focus on Ancient history

Beth @ Pages and Margins said...

What a great post! Would you be interested in linking up with the Diverse Children's Books Link-up? You can find it at Thanks!