12 STEM Activities for Lunar New Year
Celebrate Lunar New Year and the Year of the Dragon with these free science and engineering activities for enriching hands-on STEM.
What is Lunar New Year?
Lunar New Year (also known as Chinese New Year) is February 10, 2024. Lunar New Year starts with the new moon that happens in late January or February. Celebrations continue for 15 days and culminate with a Lantern Festival. In Chinese culture, 2024 will mark the year of the dragon. There are many symbols and traditions associated with Lunar New Year, including special foods, dragon and lion dances, fireworks, lanterns, red envelopes, and more.
As with any holiday or celebration that may be observed in the classroom, there are lots of creative hands-on STEM activities you can adapt with Lunar New Year in mind. We've compiled an inspiring list of 12 activities with suggestions for ways to turn ordinary science and engineering experiments into awesome Lunar New Year-themed STEM activities.
Light Up Lunar New Year Celebrations with DIY Paper Lanterns!
Lanterns are common symbols for Lunar New Year, and a Lantern Festival marks the end of the holiday. The Make an Awesome Paper Lantern STEM activity and video from Science Buddies guides students in using the engineering design process to design and build paper lanterns. These paper lanterns can be made with battery-powered tea lights or with a night light circuit. (A convenient DIY Night-Light Kit is available.)
STEM Activities to Observe Lunar New Year in Science Class
With the Make an Awesome Paper Lantern activity, students use the engineering design process to design and build paper lanterns. With variations to allow the use of a small battery-powered tea light or a DIY night light circuit built on a breadboard, this lesson is designed to scale for different grade levels and interests. (A convenient DIY Night-Light Kit is available.)
Like dragons, lions are powerful symbols in Chinese culture. In the Build A Vortex Cannon! activity, students make a simple vortex air cannon from a balloon and a plastic cup or recycled container. When the balloon is pulled and released, the device creates a small blast of air. Get creative in decorating the device to make it look like a dragon or a Chinese lion (like the one shown below) that blasts puffs of air!
A dragon dance involves multiple dancers, each using poles to control the appearance of a different part of the dragon's body as it moves. An automaton is a device with multiple parts that independently move when a crank or hand-control is activated. The Make Cardboard Automata activity uses a caterpillar automaton to demonstrate how to plan and build automata from cardboard and craft materials. A dragon- or tiger-inspired automaton would be an amazing Lunar New Year creation! This hands-on engineering activity is loaded with opportunity for creativity and customization and is a good challenge for older students. (In addition to the overview video shown below, there is an additional video to help with more advanced designs.)
Rice paper can be used for many purposes, including wrapping foods and treats. In the Homemade Rice Paper activity, students make edible rice paper and experiment with the recipe to see how different ingredients and ratios relate to flexibility, strength, and taste. Note: This activity is part of our 13 Tasty Food Science Experiments! collection.
Three, two, one, release the chain! In the Popsicle Stick Chain Reaction activity, students harness potential energy as they interweave wooden sticks to create a chain reaction. The sticks can be painted, colored, or decorated to fit any occasion or celebration. Be careful not to release the chain before you are ready! When all the sticks are in place, let go, and watch them fly! Be ready! Make a video of your popsicle stick chain reaction, so you can watch it again. Try watching it in slow motion, too! Note: This activity is part of our 13 Activities and Lessons to Teach Potential and Kinetic Energy collection.
The Make a Cotton Ball Launcher activity guides students in assembling a simple launcher from nested cardboard tubes, rubber bands, and a pencil. When pulled back and released, the device launches a cotton ball. Get creative to decorate the launchers as dragons, lions, tigers, or other symbolic animals for Lunar New Year fun. Bonus! Use orange (or colored) cotton balls for an exciting fire-breathing effect! Note: This activity is part of our 10 STEM Activities with Cardboard Tubes collection.
Celebrate the Lunar New Year with a set of shadow puppets! Use the Making Shadow Puppets activity to make shadow puppets from cardstock and use them with a flashlight to put on a shadow play. Students can learn about the physics of light and shadow at the same time! (Educators! This exploration is part of our Teach About the Physics of Light collection. An NGSS-aligned elementary school lesson plan is also available.)
Get the thrill of launching things into the sky and explore the scientific method at the same time by designing and launching paper rockets! In the Paper Rockets to Learn the Scientific Method lesson, students make paper rockets and investigate to see how different design features relate to how the rockets fly. (Note: An activity version of this experiment is also available!)
Many celebrations involve fireworks, and there are cultural traditions surrounding fireworks and Lunar New Year, too. With the Underwater Color Bursts activity, students can make beautiful underwater fireworks (contained in a glass or jar) and explore mixtures, density, miscibility, and diffusion. You'll need cooking oil, water, and food coloring for this colorful experiment. (Note: For related lessons and activities, see 13 Lessons to Teach About the Chemistry of Mixtures and Solutions.)
What creates the colors we see in the sky during a fireworks display? The Discover the Flaming Colors of Fireworks activity and the Rainbow Fire Kit helps students find out! In the activity, students dip skewers in different chemicals to see what colors are produced when the chemicals burn. (Adult supervision required.)
Kites have long been associated with Asian celebrations, and kites may have first been created and flown in China many years ago. In the How Tails Help a Kite to Fly activity, students make simple sled kites and experiment to see what role the tails play. Be inspired! See how these students explored kite making at home.
Make a Lunar New Year mobile! Have students color, paint, draw, or collage themed elements to add to a hanging mobile using the Balance the Forces Within a Mobile activity. Making everything balance is a STEM challenge! Have students make individual mobiles, work in groups for larger mobiles, or collaborate on a giant classroom mobile. They'll be learning about the physics related to "balancing" with every piece they add. Be inspired! This student made a very tall mobile that included dragons! Tip! Glue printouts or drawings onto cardstock and cut around the shapes to give elements a colorful border and make them more durable for hanging.
Pair Hands-on STEM with Children's Books
While tradition holds that books should not be bought or given for Lunar New Year, the following children's books may provide a nice storytelling tie-in on days leading up to or after the holiday.
- Nian, The Chinese New Year Dragon
- The Nian Monster
- The Year of the Dragon: Tales from the Chinese Zodiac
- How to Catch a Dragon
- Magic Ramen: The Story of Momofuku Ando
- PoPo's Lucky Chinese New Year
- Dragons Love Tacos
Collections like this help educators find themed activities in a specific subject area or discover activities and lessons that meet a curriculum need. We hope these collections make it convenient for teachers to browse related lessons and activities. For other collections, see the Teaching Science Units and Thematic Collections lists. We encourage you to browse the complete STEM Activities for Kids and Lesson Plans areas, too. Filters are available to help you narrow your search.
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