The Mid-autumn Festival is my favourite Chinese celebration (yes, Lunar New Year claims second place), and with good reason. It is an occasion deeply rooted in cultural traditions to celebrate family togetherness and reunion, over complementary mooncakes and tea.
I love the story behind Mid-autumn Festival, albeit it being a sad one, which is about archer Hou Yi's heroism and devotion as well as Chang E's sacrifice and bravery. "Celebrating the Mid-autumn Festival" provides a great, toddler-friendly read about this legend.
10+ Fun Mid-autumn Festival Activities (Montessori-friendly)
I created the following 10+ Mid-autumn Festival themed activities to help my toddler understand this holiday and its cultural significance in a fun and hands-on manner. Celebrating Chinese traditions are also one of the most natural and effortless ways to introduce Chinese learning for young children.
1. Moon Egg Yolk Counting
In Chinese culture, a round circle symbolizes completeness. The full moon at the Mid-autumn Festival symbolizes bliss and reunion for the whole family, and mooncakes are made round with full egg yolks encased in them to complement the perfect circle of the moon.
The yolks used in traditional mooncakes are salted duck egg yolks. Many mooncakes come with double egg yolks and some variations even contain three or four yolks.
This activity invites children to place egg yolks (in the form of orange dot stickers) onto cut mooncake wedge drawings.
It is a great way to promote one-to-one correspondence, an advanced math skill beyond rote counting whereby children learn to assign numbers to counted objects.
Through this activity, my toddler's recognition of Chinese numerals was strengthened.
She is used to seeing English digits more commonly than Chinese, so this activity presented a good opportunity for learning numbers in Chinese.
2. Moon Dot Sticker Activity
This activity also utilises dot stickers, a common art and craft material at home, and invites children to connect dot stickers in the strokes of a Chinese character to increase print awareness.
Line and letter tracing using dot stickers encourages pre-writing and literacy skills. Chalk Academy shares examples of similar educational activities in her post.
I drew little circles within the character to help guide the positioning and placement of the dot stickers (a good fine motor exercise), and incorporate some counting fun.
The character I chose for this activity is 月 (Yuè / Moon). Other suitable words and phrases related to the Mid-autumn Festival are:
- 中秋节 (Zhōng qiū jié / Mid-autumn Festival)
- 收成 (Shōu chéng /Harvest)
- 团圆 (Tuán yuán / Reunion)
- 家庭团聚 (Jiā tíng tuán jù / Family togetherness)
- 庆祝 (Qìng zhù / Celebrate)
- 月饼 (Yuè bǐng / Mooncakes)
- 品茶 (Pǐn chá / Tea tasting)
3. Moon Gazing with Binoculars Craft
This is a fun activity for children to unleash their creative juices and design binoculars for pretend moon gazing.
The binoculars craft is made using toilet paper (TP) rolls. This idea is not new and I don't know who the source of the original creator is so I'm unable to credit the idea. You could provide children with painter's tape, washi tape, markers, stickers and string to make this craft.
I injected some originality in this idea by creating binoculars lens inserts with Chinese words written on them to increase Chinese learning opportunities.
This means that everything my toddler sees with her binoculars has Chinese words on them.
The Chinese words I chose were 欣赏 (Xīn shǎng / Admire). As she used the binoculars, I initiated play conversations by asking her, "你用双筒望远镜在欣赏什么?" (Nǐ yòng shuāng tǒng wàng yuǎn jìng zài xīn shǎng shén me? / What are you admiring with your binoculars?)
I would rhetorically reply, saying things like, "你正在欣赏窗外的夜景" (Nín zhèng zài xīn shǎng chuāng wài de yè jǐng / You're admiring the night scenery outside the window) to help build rich vocabulary. In time to come, I believe she would internalise these new words and eventually use them for self-expression.
To make the lens inserts, cut out hard plastic from food packaging containers (e.g. berry containers), use black permanent marker to write on them, make slits in the top of the binoculars and slot the hard plastic pieces through.
More Chinese phrases could be rotated and used for these binoculars lens inserts to broaden vocabulary, such as:
- 注视 (Zhù shì / Gaze)
- 景色 (Jǐngsè / View, as a noun)
- 观察 (Guān chá / Observe)
- 看远 (Kàn yuǎn / Look far)
4. Learning about Moon Phases
My toddler had been introduced to the concept of moon phases during our space unit study a while back, so this was a refresher for her. I included Chinese labels to help her associate the equivalent Chinese terms for the different phases.
Prior to this activity, my toddler and I read this enjoyable book, "Big Mooncake for Little Star" by Grace Lin, which has a story centred around a mom-daughter pair making mooncakes and it being nibbled off night after night in a visual way that resembled the waning moon.
Note: The story is fiction-based, so it is not Montessori-aligned for young children who would benefit more from books rooted in realism vs. fantasy, so introduce it to children at your discretion.
For this activity, I invited my toddler to help illustrate different moon phases and cut them out. Our Safari Ltd The Solar System figurine of Planet Earth came in handy and we also used the science-based, non-fiction book "The Moon Seems to Change" as our resource guide to explain why the moon appears to look different at varying timings of the month via a flashlight experiment. I strongly recommend doing the flashlight experiment with your children to build the right foundational knowledge -- that moon phases are changes to the moon's appearance due to changes in light reflected, and not that the moon disappears and grows (a common misconception).
Note: I would like to thank Rosemary B., a reader and secondary science teacher, for raising this super valid point, as she's had to undo many students' misconceptions about the moon phases.
These are the Chinese labels I used:
- 月相 (Yuè xiàng / Moon phases)
- 新月 (Xīn yuè / New Moon)
- 眉月 (Méi yuè / Waxing Crescent)
- 上弦月 (Shàngxián yuè / First Quarter)
- 盈凸月 (Yíng tú yuè / Waxing gibbous)
- 满月 (Mǎnyuè / Full moon) –
- 亏凸月 (Kuī tú yuè / Waning gibbous)
- 下弦月 (Xiàxián yuè / Last quarter)
- 残月 (Cányuè / Waning crescent)
- 太阳 (Tài yáng / The Sun)
- 阳光 (Yáng guāng / Sunlight)
For an activity more hands-on, Chalk Academy has a tactile play dough mooncake activity for learning about moon phases.
5. Paper Plate Moon Craft
My toddler and I made a paper plate moon craft for Valentine's Day this year, and I'm glad to update its design with a Mid-autumn Festival theme for this activity.
To make your paper plate moon craft, paint a plain paper plate yellow and let dry. You can choose to keep the paper plate in its round circle shape, or cut it into a crescent moon shape.
I illustrated Chang'E fairy and Jade Bunny characters and invited my toddler to color and cut out. I punched holes on the sides of the illustrations and invited her to thread ribbons of her choice through the holes to make Chinese silk dance ribbons for the characters, inspired by their depiction in Sage Formula Basic Chinese 500 《基础汉字500》.
My toddler is familiar with the story of Chang'E but hadn't been introduced to the legend of the Jade Bunny.
I used this activity to share with her the story of how the Jade Bunny came to live on the moon with Chang'E. There are a couple of variations for the story, but this is the version I grew up with.
I streamlined and modified the story when telling it to my toddler. I made sure to explain that this is a legend and therefore not real. These are the soundbites I shared:
- 这是玉兔的传说。(Zhè shì yù tù de chuán shuō. / This is the legend of the Jade Bunny.)
- 玉皇大帝伪装成饥饿的乞丐, 向兔子求食。(Yù huáng dà dì wèi zhuāng chéng jī' è de qǐ gar, xiàng tù zǐ qiú shí. / The Jade Emperor disguised himself as a hungry beggar and asked a bunny for food.)
- 食物很稀缺，兔子知道人们不能吃草，所以它提供了自己的肉。(Shí wù hěn xī quē, tù zǐ zhī dào ren men bù néng chī cǎo, suǒ yǐ tā tí gōng le ròu. / Food was scarce, and the bunny knew people can't eat grass so it offered its flesh.)
- 玉皇帝被玉兔的无私感动了，并赋予了它在月球上的不朽生命。(Yù huáng dì bèi yù tù de wú sī gǎn dòng le, bìng fù yǔ le tā zài yuè qiú shàng de bù xiǔ shēng mìng. / The Jade Emperor was touched by the Jade Bunny's selflessness and granted it immortal life on the moon.)
6. Eraserable Moon Cakes
The round pastry skin of moon cakes are typically adorned with motifs and occasionally, Chinese words associated with the symbolism of Mid-autumn Festival.
This activity is inspired by this fact. The 'eraserable' idea of using marker ink on transparent packing tape originated from Mothercould. I used a dry erase black marker for this activity.
The Chinese character shown in the pictures is 满 (mǎn) which means "full". It is often used in the idiom 圆圆满满 (Yuán yuán mǎn mǎn / completeness) to refer to happy outcomes (e.g. marriages).
It was a nice way to revise Chinese words by writing the character on the mooncake and inviting my toddler to read it aloud.
7. Paper Bag Lantern Making
In Singapore and some other Southeast Asia countries, the Mid-autumn Festival is also celebrated with carrying paper lanterns. The handmade paper lanterns typically look rounded with slits on the side for lit candlelight to illuminate its surrounding areas.
It is believed that in olden times, paper lanterns were used on Mid-autumn Festival to serve the practical purpose of being a light source for people to appreciate the full moon late into the night.
Based on my experience, paper lanterns burn up easily and aren't suitable for toddlers to play with. I decided to make a safer version using the torchlight as its light source.
I needed the lantern to be structured so I decided to modify a small kraft paper bag into a paper lantern. My torchlight fits into a TP roll, so I taped a cut TP roll onto the base of the paper bag to prop my torchlight upright.
On the sides of the paper bag, I cut out words and shapes related to the Mid-autumn Festival as decoration, before sticking thin crepe paper over the cut-outs for the light to easily shine through.
My designs include the moon, the Jade Bunny as well as the Chinese characters 中秋 (Zhōng qiū / Mid autumn).
These paper bag lanterns are great for playing indoors, which is perfect for these covid (+ wildfire polluted air) times.
I love that a paper bag is creatively recycled for this craft, and using a torchlight as opposed to burning candles is more environmentally-friendly, especially when using rechargeable torchlights (instead of battery-operated ones).
I attached an upcycled disposable wooden chopstick to the handles of the paper bag to serve as the lantern holder. The lantern can also be easily lifted by their handles.
8. Mooncake Word Stamping
I made Chinese character TP roll stamps for my toddler to decorate her pretend mooncakes.
Tip for making the Chinese character TP roll stamps: Write desired Chinese character on a transparent surface then flip it over. Copy the flipped character onto the TP roll. Use that to guide the hot glue gun.
These are the Chinese characters I wrote on the TP roll stamps:
- 中 (zhōng), which means middle. In this context, it is paired with 秋 (qiū) to refer to the festival's mid-autumn timing
- 秋 (qiū), which means autumn.
- 节 (jié), which means festival.
I provided fine motor tools like a rolling pin and knife for my toddler to shape and cut the pretend mooncakes. Play dough fun is a great fine motor activity.
There was lots of pretend play opportunities in this activity -- making the mooncakes, baking them, and then eating them. Each provided the opportunity for rich play dialogue.
New vocabulary I used included:
- 在橡皮泥上盖章 (Zài xiàng pí ní shàng gài zhāng / Stamp the play dough)
- 轻轻按下 (Qīng qīng àn xià / Gently press down)
- 用力按下 (Yòng lì àn xià / Press down with force)
- 看看章在橡皮泥上的字体 (Kàn kàn gài zài xiàng pí ní shàng de zì tǐ / Look at the words formed on the play dough)
9. Reunion Dot Sticker Activity
The Mid-autumn Festival is all about family togetherness and reunion, so I created an activity to help bring that across more visually.
This activity was inspired by the "Celebrating the Mid-autumn Festival" book by author and illustrator Sanmu Tang. My activity drawings replicate the character illustrations in this book.
I used a black permanent marker with a sharp tip to draw motifs on colorful dot stickers to pass them off as round mooncakes.
Subsequently, I invited my toddler to 'distribute' the mooncakes to the empty plates of the different family members around the table.
My toddler was able to recognise the characters from the book and addressed their titles correctly in our play dialogue. When she referred to the characters, I would reply using the Chinese equivalent term e.g. 奶奶 (Nǎi nai) for Grandma.
It was also a great way to practise one-to-one correspondence and introduce concepts like equitability through the 'mooncake distribution'. My toddler felt it was fair to assign two mooncakes to each family member. Numerically, it is.
For older children, you might like to use this opportunity to introduce the story of 孔融让梨 (Kǒng Róng Ràng Lí) which is about respecting family elders and initiate an interesting discussion on whether this means the elders get a larger distribution of the mooncakes. Be mindful that there isn't any right or wrong answer, and it's not advisable to force children to 'share' as well. The discussion is just to shape children's developing concept of equity.
10. Sculpting Mooncakes Without a Mould
The Mid-autumn Festival wouldn't feel right without eating mooncakes. The taste of mooncakes is something that transports one back home, and evokes nostalgic feelings of childhood and family.
Many commercially sold mooncakes unfortunately are high in sugar and contain processed ingredients and preservatives. I decided to try my hand at making toddler-friendly, healthy mooncakes to involve her in this cultural ritual, as well as to let my little one get her first taste of something she's been reading so much about.
I referenced the traditional mooncake recipe from Taste of Asian Food but made the following modifications.
- I replaced golden syrup with maple syrup, because it was more accessible. Correspondingly, I replaced lye water with purified water. My rationale is that maple syrup (based on Google research) has an approximate pH of 6.5 to 7 and isn't that acidic to require neutralisation with lye water, which is alkaline. Note that these ingredient replacements resulted in a totally different texture and flavour for the mooncakes, but since my priority was ensuring it's healthy for toddlers, I didn't mind that too much. If retaining the original taste is important to you, stick to the original ingredients.
- I omitted salted egg yolks in the filling and did not use store-bought lotus paste. I placed organic medjool dates in a food processor to blend them into a sticky paste, which made a great filling as it could easily be kneaded into balls.
I didn't have a mooncake mould and I wasn't sure if the mooncakes would taste decent for me to make a second batch so I decided not to invest in getting moulds. I sculpted the mooncakes by hand. It turned out much better than I expected, and I believe older children would enjoy the tactile experience of sculpting Chinese characters with dough for the mooncake decoration.
Tools that would help with the sculpting are: Crinkle cutters (to create the ridges around mooncakes) or chopsticks (to help with forming imprints such as lines and shapes).
Ingredients like pumpkin seeds made good decorative materials for the mooncakes too. I did end up making a second batch, which I added cocoa powder to in the dough for extra flavour.
I hope your child enjoys these fun and tactile Mid-autumn Festival activities! Have a happy holiday!
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Hi! I am Yunnie. I am the newly minted mama to a little baby girl and a mum friend to everyone on this special (and many times scary) journey of motherhood. Also a graduated bride with a penchant for weddings.