Chinese New Year is fast approaching! My husband and I would be inviting a few groups of friends over for house visitations over the 15-day course of the Chinese New Year.
It is my hope that Miss 21 months would be able to engage in independent play while the guests are over so that this mama here can play the hostess role and engage in rare social (child-free) conversations lol.
With that goal in mind, I prepared a series of Chinese New Year Montessori-inspired tray activities for Miss 21 months to explore and try out on her own while the grownups socialise. The activities are pretty diverse - from fine motor practice to sensory play to problem-solving challenges so I hope she finds something that aligns with her current interests.
I tested out a few of the activities with her prior so she has a better understanding of how they work and the familiarity would help ease her into the activities. Would stash the activities until when our friends drop by!
10 Chinese New Year Montessori-Inspired Tray Activities for Toddlers!
- Chinese New Year Fruit Threading
Threading is a great activity for fine motor development (hand-eye coordination, refinement of pincer grip). It can be a trying task for toddlers who are working to hone their motor control and will stretch their patience, concentration and focus. Try to offer lots of encouragement on the side if you sense frustration getting the better of your toddler!
I picked the pineapple (黄梨 / Huáng lí in Singaporean Chinese or 凤梨 / Fèng lí in Taiwanese Chinese or 菠萝 / Bō luó in China Chinese) and orange (橙 / Chéng) for the design because they symbolise fortune and good luck in Chinese culture due to the way they sound.
- Red Packet Puzzle
Perfect activity for when you have red packets (known as 红包 / Hóng bāo) to spare!
Cut up the red packets in different ways (diagonal, zig-zag) to turn them into homemade puzzles! For toddlers, halving them works because it strikes a fine balance between too easy and too hard. For preschoolers, feel free to make more cuts as a higher puzzle count would be more stimulating.
- Gold Chocolate Coin Size Sorting
I snagged a bag of gold chocolate coins from the Asian supermart because... nostalgia! They reminded me of my own childhood and I think of them fondly as Chinese New Year candies.
The gold chocolate coins came in 3 sizes so I created a sorting activity for Miss 21 months to categorize them by their different sizes. Stuck clear tape on front and back of each coin and used a black permanent marker to write the corresponding Chinese character for the coin's size on the tape. Then I labelled 3 upcycled containers with the same descriptions.
Here are the Chinese characters I wrote for the sizes:
- 大 (Dà / Big)
- 中 (Zhōng / Medium)
- 小 (Xiǎo / Small)
Added the sizing labels as part of my efforts to make Miss 21 months' play items more print-rich! Had been inspired by this article on using labels to promote literacy in children by the Chalk Academy.
Ways to extend play:
- Incorporate the coins into spring poems!
- Provide a muffin tray for object transfer and learning of one-to-one correspondence
- Fill the Lucky Bucket
The Chinese believe it is important to fill the rice bucket on the eve of Chinese New Year to signify a bountiful year ahead (more about this tradition here.)
Building on this Chinese custom, I created a fine motor activity for Miss 21 months to practise scooping, transferring and object transfer. The Chinese character I taped onto the receiving containers is 满 (Mǎn / Full) which is an auspicious word commonly seen in Chinese New Year spring poems or red banners.
- Firecracker Wooden Peg Pull Fine Motor Activity
Chinese myth has it that the loud cackles of the firecrackers scare away the 年 (Nián / Year) monster which roams around on Chinese New Year's eve to terrorise people and destroy homes. Firecrackers are therefore a symbolic Chinese New Year item and in modern days their likeness are commonly used as home decoration.
I created this activity for Miss 21 months to yank and pull off the wooden pegs (i.e. firecracker tubes). The prep was simple and straightforward - I stuck strips of red construction paper onto wooden pegs and attached them onto a long rectangular card stock in a downward sloping manner. Added the Chinese character 炮 (Pào / Firecrackers) and a tassel for aesthetic purposes.
- Wooden Block Chinese Character Formation
For toddlers who have grown bored of regular wooden block play, this activity is great at giving those blocks a new lease of life!
I love how this activity repurposes wooden blocks in a myriad of ways, there's no right or wrong combination or one standard way to fit wooden blocks into the 吉 (Jí / Auspicious) word.
Great activity for enhancing cognitive abilities, teaching little ones spatial relationships between objects and sharpening problem-solving skills!
- Bottle Cap Chinese Character Matching
Matching/sorting is a terrific way to build visual memory and discrimination and teach children similarity and difference.
I taped 4 Chinese characters 新年快乐 (Xīn Nián Kuài Lè / Happy Chinese New Year) onto bottle caps and circled the same characters on a thick card stock to encourage Miss 21 months to match the words on the bottle caps to that on the circles.
- Button Parade Chinese Character Formation
Inspired by Busy Toddler's Car Parade Toddler Activity, I made a button version and arranged the painter's tape in the layout of a Chinese character, 年 (Nián / Year).
A great fine motor workout for little hands and fingers! Also a wonderful activity for building focus, concentration and hand-eye coordination.
- Learning Chinese Word 'Snow' Fine Motor Activity
Wintry and snowy weather is common during Chinese New Year though the holiday is named 春节 (Chūn Jié / Spring Festival). The Chinese people typically look forward to the beginning of spring after the Chinese New Year celebrations draw to a close.
And because we experienced our first snow in Bellevue just last week, I was inspired to create a fine motor activity teaching the word 雪 (Xuě / Snow) to Miss 21 months. I used homemade play dough as pretend snow and Miss 21 months had a great time filling up the strokes of the Chinese character with pretend snow.
- Dumpling Making Pretend Play
Dumplings are a traditional must-eat food on New Year's Eve because they symbolize longevity and wealth. That has to do with dumplings' shape resembling ingots, which were an early form of Chinese currency.
Because Miss 21 months' favourite Chinese New Year book ('Bringing in the New Year' by Grace Lin) featured dumpling making, I created this dumpling-making pretend play tray for her to figuratively have a taste of tradition.
I used the same homemade play dough as pretend dumpling dough and included lots of dough manipulation tools (rolling pin / toy knives) and dumpling filling options (toy fish and vegetables) for Miss 21 months to include in the pretend play.
(Oops, our dumplings look more like curry puffs ;P I obviously need to pick up the art of dumpling wrapping.)
I hope you enjoy these Chinese New Year inspired Montessori tray activities with your toddler. Happy Chinese new year to you, 新年快乐!
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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.