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Chinese New Year – drama and music

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By Judith HarriesEarly Years teacher and writer

Explore two creative activities inspired by Chinese New Year combining practical music, dance and drama ideas.

Chinese monster

Making music together

What you need:
Dusters, scourers and other cleaning tools; a selection of tuned musical instruments; a collection of metal items, hanging frame or rack, string; a selection of drums; a large space

Group sizes:
  • Pairs for ‘The hand band’
  • Small groups for ‘Spring cleaning dance’
  • Whole class for ‘Spring cleaning song’ and ‘Dragon dance’.

Areas of learning:
EAD: Exploring and using media and materials – Children sing songs and make music and dance, and experiment with ways of changing them.

Starters

  1. Spring cleaning dance
    Put a pile of cleaning tools such as dusters, scourers, cloths, brushes and dustpans in the middle of the circle. Ask the children what they think they are for. Explain that before Chinese New Year families clean their homes and traditionally sweep away any bad luck. Invite them to mime using them in different ways. Develop the movements into simple dance steps – large circular wiping movements with arms; quick flicks of dusters; sweep and step with brooms and brushes; fast scrubbing moves and so on. Add some suitable Spring music such as ‘Spring’ from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, or the songs ‘Oh what a beautiful morning’ or ‘April showers’.
  2. Spring cleaning song
    Try singing this song to the tune of ‘Oh I do like to be beside the seaside’:
    Oh we do like to sing as we are cleaning
    Oh we do like to sing the dust away
    Oh we do like to clean as we sing, sing, sing,
    Make our houses shine, for the Spring, Spring, Spring!
  3. The hand band
    Fireworks are another important event during Chinese New Year. Ask the children to find a partner to work with. Explain that one of the pair is going to use their hands to direct their partner to make firework sounds with their voice. Demo with a child. Close your fist and then flick it open into a star shape. Most children will automatically make an explosive sound. Repeat this movement but make your hands move up and down. Let the children experiment with movements and sounds. Don’t forget to let them swap so both get a turn playing each role.


Main

Listen to some Chinese music that uses gongs and drums. Try watching films of the Chinese New Year Dragon dance on the internet. Talk about what the children can hear and see. Explain that you are going to create some Chinese music for a Dragon dance. Allow the children to work in small groups exploring the sounds they can create using two different types of sound source.

Gongs and drums
Make a collection of metal kitchen utensils such as saucepans and lids, sieves, large spoons, graters, whisks, colanders, and so on. Hang them with pieces of string on to a frame such as a dressing up clothes rack. Add in some bells and triangles if you can’t find enough equipment in the kitchen! Let children use smaller metal spoons to tap the instruments and create some good clanging and ringing sounds with the hanging gongs.
Provide a selection of drums for the children to add to their music. Use conventional drums and tambours mixed with homemade biscuit tins and lids. Tap with drum sticks or wooden spoons. Try clashing two lids together like cymbals. Show the children how to alternate the drum sounds with the hanging gongs.

Chinese tunes
The five-note or pentatonic scale of C D E G A is the basic scale used in Chinese music and creates an instant familiar Chinese sound. Set up some xylophones or metallophones with these notes and let the children improvise or make up tunes on the spot. Alternate these sounds with the Gongs and drums and the Chinese music for a Dragon dance is ready.

Bring on the dragon
After watching the Chinese dragon dance on film ask the children to all stand in a long line with their hands on the shoulders or waist of the child in front. Try leading the dragon yourself at first but the children will soon catch on so you can ask for a volunteer to lead the dragon! Attempt a follow the leader style movement moving around the space as one, moving left and right, and up and down. To make the dragon more effective try designing and building a dragon head for the leader to wear or carry. Use a simple cardboard box painted red with large eyes and sharp teeth. Place a long drape of fabric over the heads of the other children to create the dragon’s body and tail.


The Chinese monster

What you need:
Activity sheet, ‘Nian, the Chinese monster’; monster puppet (optional); paper and pens; red paper, scarves, fabric or paper and paint; a large screen or wall; musical instruments (see above).

Group size:
Whole class; divide into three groups for the final activity.

Area of learning: CL: Speaking – Children use language to imagine and recreate roles and experiences in play situations.

Starters

Nian, the Chinese monster

  1. Nian, the Chinese monster
    Tell the children the traditional story associated with the Chinese New Year celebrations, from the Activity sheet, ‘Nian, the Chinese monster’.
  2. What’s my line?
    Sit the children in a circle and ask them to take turns miming different activities or jobs for the others to guess. Start with jobs that they are familiar with from their own experience – teachers, doctors, shop workers, waiters, drivers, and so on. Then explain that they are going to pretend to be people in the story from China. What sort of jobs or activities could they be doing? Try digging up crops, washing clothes by hand, cooking, serving drinks or food, eating, looking after animals, teaching children, and so on. Try miming some of these for the other children to guess.
  3. Nian’s coming
    Ask all the children to find a space and begin acting out one of the activities from the previous game. Explain that they are all the villagers on New Year’s eve, busy getting on with their lives. Use either the monster puppet or a child in role and shout out the warning ‘Nian’s coming’. All the children must freeze like statues and not move at all or they will be caught!


Main

Introduce the drama by going into role as the wise man who comes to the village. Hold up a large poster advertising a meeting the night before New year’s eve to discuss the problem of Nian the monster and invite all the children/villagers to attend.

The meeting
Put out chairs for the children to sit on and a table for the wise man to sit behind. Go into role and start the meeting by talking about the problem the village has with Nian the monster. What should the people do? Invite the children/villagers to share their ideas at the meeting – fight him, trick him, trap him, scare him, etc. Tell the children/villagers that you, the wise man, know what will scare Nian. Help them to plan how to prepare the village ready for the monster.

Getting ready
Divide the children into three groups. The first group has to paint lots of paper red (or mime painting), use red scarves and/or fabric to cover a wall or screen so that is completely red. The second group can practise making loud music using ideas from the Gongs and drums and Chinese tunes activities (see above). The third group can act out setting off fireworks using ideas from The hand band (see above). Can they use their whole bodies to be fireworks this time?

Getting rid
It is now New Year’s Eve. Ask the children in group one to hide behind the red screen and watch what happens. Group two can make their noisy music in front of the screen and group three can act out their loud fireworks. Use the monster puppet or a volunteer child to be Nian and react to the colour and noise in the village. Nian runs away and the villagers celebrate!

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