In 2008 I was fortunate to visit China as part of a teacher exchange programme. I spent the week visiting several schools in Shanghai. When I was teaching, I always enjoyed Chinese New Year as it gave my class an opportunity to learn about a different culture and celebration. One particular activity we enjoyed was learning about the Chinese New Year story, how each year is named after a particular animal. Usually we would re-enact the story using the children as characters. However, as it is just Adam and I we had to adapt the activity. Instead of dressing up as each animal we used stick puppets.
I created a river scene from an Oasis Floral Foam Brick. On each side I attached two pieces of blue foam sheets that had been cut to represent water. I also printed another copy of the Chinese New Year Animal Race Positions Poster and laid the sheets on the floor. I used the stick puppets to tell the Chinese New Year story to Adam.
The Chinese New Year Story
A long time ago in China there lived a Jade Emperor. He wanted a way of measuring time to see how old he was. The Jade Emperor decided to have a race. All the animals lined up along the river.
The rat knew he couldn’t swim so climbed onto the Ox’s back. Just as the Ox was about to win the race the rat leapt from the Ox’s head and on to the bank to win. The Jade Emperor named the first year of the Zodiac after the rat and the second after the Ox.
Soon afterwards the exhausted tiger finished the race. The Jade Emperor said the third year would be the Year of the Tiger.
The Rabbit couldn’t swim but was clever. He had hopped across on stepping stones and then found a floating log. The fourth year would be the Year of the Rabbit.
The Dragon appeared next. The Jade Emperor asked why he hadn’t flown across. The Dragon had been too busy helping the other animals. The fifth year would be the Year of the Dragon.
The Horse came closer to the finishing line but suddenly the Snake appeared from around the horses hooves. The horse was so surprised that he jumped backwards and the Snake became sixth. The seventh year would be the Year of the Horse.
Soon a wooden raft appeared carrying the Goat, Monkey and Rooster. The three animals had worked together to get across. The Jade Emperor was impressed so he named the eighth year after the Goat, the ninth year after the Monkey and the tenth after the Rooster.
Next came the dog. The Jade Emperor asked what had taken him so long as he could swim. The water had been so clean that the dog had decided to take a bath. Finally the last animal arrived. The Pig had been hungry and stopped to eat. He had then fell asleep. The Jade Emperor named the twelfth year the Year of the Pig.
As each animal completed the race we added them to our Chinese New Year Animal Race Position poster. Adam clapped as each animal was placed onto the correct poster! I am looking forward to repeating the activity over the years and watching Adam’s understanding of the story develop.
Cbeebies has a great short animation of the story – although it only explains how Rat and Ox won the race.
Equipment (with affiliate links):
* Chinese New Year animal characters – we created ours from Twinkl
* Lolly sticks and cellotape
* Blue foam sheet.
*A4 Laminator (optional)
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