Activities to teach kids about Chinese culture
I love traveling the world with your kids through our Global Citizen Kids Club! This month we’re learning about China. Come explore with us as we discover great children’s books about Chinese culture and history, explore Chinese traditions, and make crafts.
If you love learning about the world’s cultures, be sure to download my free Around the World in 12 Kids’ Activities booklet.
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links to my Amazon Associates and Little Passports accounts and to my Barefoot Books storefront. If you purchase items through these links, I earn a small commission at no additional cost to you.
Learn Mandarin Chinese vocabulary
Learning Chinese vocabulary is challenging, but it can be done! One of the ways that speaking Mandarin Chinese is very different from speaking English is that the tone you use helps determine the meaning of the word. It may be easier for you to use the correct tones if you listen to a video or recording of someone using the words.
Our favorite source for learning words in Mandarin Chinese are YouTube videos by Miss Panda Chinese. Her videos are specifically for children. She offers videos that teach vocabulary. However, my 5 year old’s favorite video series are the ones where she reads children’s books he grew up with in Mandarin Chinese. You can watch her read The Very Hungry Caterpillar below.
Explore Chinese Culture Through Food
Our 5 year is old is fascinated with chopsticks, and your child might be too! If you’re used to eating with a fork and knife, it’s a big change. We were recently given a copy of the Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts. As soon as he opened the book, our son asked to make a chopstick case.
If your child loves crafts, you need this book! It has simple Chinese crafts that can be done by kids as young as 5, and more complicated crafts that will hold the interest of older children and even adults. I also recommend it if you just want to learn more about Chinese culture, history, and traditions.
Make a chopstick case
Here’s how we made our chopstick case, following the Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts‘ instructions.
Fold a piece of origami paper in half. Crease it, and then unfold it. If your paper is white on one side, you want to have the white side face up.
Fold both sides of the paper to meet in the center. Crease them and then unfold.
Fold the bottom right corner to the center crease to form a triangle. Then fold the top right corner to meet the first crease on the top.
Fold the top section towards the center line, and then fold it again.
Fold the bottom panel up the meet the top panel.
Flip your case over and fold the bottom edge up to close the bottom. Tape it closed.
Learn how to use chopsticks
This video will show you and your child the “proper” way to hold chopsticks. She also gives a couple of suggestions if the correct way does not work for you. I also like the video because she repeats some of her instructions in Chinese, giving your child a chance to hear the language.
Learn how to make your own Chinese scroll + 11 other global crafts in my free booklet, Around the World in 12 Kids Activities.
Picture Books About Chinese Culture and Traditions
As we always do for the Global Citizen Kids Club, I’m sharing some of our favorite children’s books set in China.
I always like to read at least one non-fiction book when we’re learning about a country. It’s especially important if we want to understand what modern life is like there, and not just a nation’s past. Why does this matter? We want to help kids see how children just like them live, and we want to avoid outdated, romanticized portrayals of other cultures.
This book by National Geographic starts with China’s different landscapes, giving kids an idea of how large and diverse its geography is. Readers will also explore endangered animals, key moments in history, major holidays, and politics in China today. The text was too long to read all of it to my 5 year old. We did enjoy looking at the pictures and reading short snippets of the text. (Recommended for ages 10+)
The Great Race: The Story of the Chinese Zodiac by Dawn Casey and Anne Wilson
In this folktale, we learn the legend of how the Chinese calendar came into being. The Jade Emperor decides that he will name each year in the calendar after a different animal. The first to win a race will be the first to have a year named after it. This light-hearted retelling also answers the question: why is there no year of the Cat? After the story there are 4 pages of educational notes about the Chinese calendar and important holidays. (Recommended for ages 3 – 7).
Mei-Mei Loves the Morning by Margaret Holloway Tsubakiyama, Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu
Our 5 year old is completely entranced with this book about a young girl and her grandfather. We follow Mei-Mei and grandpa on their early morning adventures in a large city in China. The gentle pace allows children to take in each thing they do, from tai-chi in the park to ordering hot sizzling pancakes from the lao-bing man. Through the pair’s everyday activities, children will learn much about Chinese culture. (Recommended for ages 3- 7)
The Barefoot Book of Buddhist Tales by Sherab Chodzin, Alexander Kohn, and Marie Cameron
China has the largest population of Buddhists in the world. About 18 percent of China’s population is Buddhist. This collection includes both light-hearted stories and short Zen anecdotes, particularly chosen for children. The tales explore concepts such as generosity, compassion, and humility.
My favorite anecdote in the collection is “Useless Work,” in which a young monk becomes upset with an older monk after he carries a spoiled young woman across a river. Long after the incident happens, the young monk asks him how he could indulge the selfish girl, especially when they are forbidden to touch women. “Oh dear,” the old monk replies. “Are you still carrying that woman? I put her down an hour ago.” (Recommended for ages 6 – 10).
The Silk Route: 7,000 Miles of History by John S. Major and Stephen Fieser
What was it like to be part of the long and difficult trading caravan across Asia? Kids and adults alike will learn much from this fascinating account of the Silk Route. For centuries, silk was carried on a treacherous 7,000 mile journey from Beijing to the Roman Empire. I particularly enjoyed the snapshots of various faiths and cultures that interacted on the route. (Recommended for 6 – 10)
The Seven Chinese Sisters by Kathy Tucker and Grace Lin
This humorous retelling of a folktale about seven talented Chinese siblings substitutes sisters for brothers. Each sister has a particular talent, though no one knows yet what the baby’s special gift is. When a hungry dragon smells Sixth Sister’s delicious noodle soup, disaster strikes. He swoops over the kitchen and decides to snatch the baby instead of the soup. Each sister must use her talent to save the baby, and they also discover what the Seventh Sister’s gift is during their adventure. (Recommended for ages 4 – 9)
D is for Dancing Dragon: A China Alphabet by Carol Crane and Zong-Zhou Wang
This alphabet book introduces children to many different aspects of Chinese culture and history, from graceful dancing acrobats to the animals of the Chinese Zodiac. If you want to read quickly through the book, there is short rhyming text for each letter of the alphabet. The sidebars contain more description about each topic for those who want to go in-depth. (Recommended for ages 4 – 10).
Fun Facts About China and Chinese Culture
- 1 out of 5 of the world’s people lives in China, more than 1.3 billion!
- Paper, the magnetic compass, fireworks, silk, and gunpowder were all invented in China.
- There are many different distinctive styles of cuisine in different regions of China. For example, rice is key to meals in the South, but in the North people eat dumplings and noodles.
- Mt. Everest, the world’s tallest mountain, is located on the border between China and Nepal.
- The Great Wall of China stretches for over 4,500 miles, making it the largest artificial structure on the planet.
- The Chinese language has over 50,000 written characters.
More Resources for Learning About China
Download a colorful lunar calendar from Barefoot Books so that you can determine your sign in the Chinese Zodiac.
My 5 year old’s favorite way to learn about China and other countries is through our Little Passports subscription, a monthly activity box that explores different cultures. They have various editions for children ages 3 – 12.
Learn how to make a mural on a Chinese scroll + 11 other global crafts in my free booklet, Around the World in 12 Kids Activities.