Festivals are an important marker of time and a window into a culture, plus Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival happens to be one of our favourite celebrations! These Montessori-inspired activities are authentic to how we celebrate Mid-Autumn in Singapore and use authentic Chinese materials, but I have designed them so that you can replicate them easily with a visit to your local Chinatown or dollar store.
1. Stringing paper lanterns
A variation on the Montessori bead stringing/ lacing activities.
It takes lightness of touch to open the lanterns without crushing them (see how the pink one got a little crushed in the follow shots)!
The children helped me hang the lanterns on a string I tied to the windowgrill, so it would resemble the rows of lanterns hung on lampposts in Chinatown.
2. Maths and Color Grading
The number 10 is important in Montessori, it is the basis of the decimal system and therefore much of the Sensorial (e.g. dimensions of Pink Tower) and Maths works are based on 10. Believe it or not, it has been very hard to find a box with ten compartments so I was thrilled when I found this vintage fabric box that my BIL had been using to store Chinese calligraphic seals. (Ok, “found” is not the right word. “Forced him to give it to me” is more like it 😂)
We used the box as a ten-frame, for one-to-one correspondence, where she had to match one color tablet to one compartment. Dylan helped by counting to ten for Emmy.
The color tablets from Color Box 3 were the perfect size for the ten-compartment box, so I extended the work by having the children grade the tablets by shades of color. I chose reds, pinks and oranges as these are considered auspicious colours in the Chinese culture. (See another unusual use of Color Box 3 in our Montessori birthday celebration.)
3. Stamping and making paper lanterns
But where did the calligraphic seals in the ten-compartment box go? They were used for a stamping activity. BIL demonstrated stamping with the original brick-red clay powder (zhu sha) which was much more pigmented but we just used a regular stamp pad.
Dylan was able to exert the right amount of pressure to get a beautiful, rich stamp mark (top left).
The seals were hand-carved by my BIL from marble and we chose characters related to my Chinese maiden surname (wang), the moon (yue), and a cute little bunny one.
I folded it into a paper bag and punched holes. The kids enjoyed their lantern. You could do the same with a paper bag, the stamp ink would probably take better and a plus is you can put a real candle (or LED bulb coz we were lazy) in it and carry it around on a wooden dowel, ahem, chopstick!
4. Oreo phases of the moon
Mid-Autumn is incomplete without the myth of Chang Er, whose tragic love story features the moon prominently as both her refuge and prison. I’m not sure what made me think that the children would sit patiently while I presented a lesson on the eight phases of the moon, but once they realised those moons were edible the lesson was over. Oreos may or may not have been eaten in the process.
Nice try, Mama.
5. Mooncake-themed book basket
An incredible Mid-Autumn book by local author Adeline Foo, housed in a mooncake box, accompanied by calligraphic paintbrushes and mooncake molds for the children to extend the story of Georgette, a Singaporean girl artist whose painting of a mooncake comes to life. (Sidenote 1: I have a daughter and it’s so important to me to find stories and role models of women creators and leaders.) (Sidenote 2: Done on staycation, overlooking Singapore’s iconic Marina Bay Sands.) Many moon books available even if you can’t get this one – check out our Eric Carle/ moon book basket here.
Mooncakes are big business for hotels, restaurants and home bakers alike. Mooncake boxes are getting more elaborate so if you can get them, they would be perfect for book baskets (pic below), or open and close activities for a younger toddler!
6. Cross Cultural: How Vietnam Celebrates Mid-Autumn Festival
Maria Montessori once said that “peace is the work of education”- and beyond the outstanding work that she did in numeracy or literacy, peace education with its centrality on respect and conflict resolution is a crucial yet oft-overlooked aspect of Montessori. To foster a respect for diversity in this cultural unit, I contacted my Vietnamese friend, Michelle, who kindly shared with us some pictures and explanations of the Vietnamese celebrations (Den Trung Thu).
I chose Vietnam because they celebrate differently from the rest of the Chinese diaspora in terms of lantern style, festivities and mooncake flavours- especially like the inventiveness of cutting open a beer can to make a lantern (above)!
I slotted the pictures in the hotel notepad so there would be an element of surprise as they turned the page to reveal each image.
But really, nothing is more authentic or family-centred than baking mooncakes together with Grandma. There are lots of creative new flavours these days, but we stuck with the traditional mooncake with lotus paste, egg yolk and melon seed filling.
Most importantly, bring the children out to experience Mid-Autumn Festival for themselves! For Singapore-based readers, visit Chinatown or Clarke Quay to see the lantern displays, or almost any shopping mall is bound to have a mooncake fair where you can sample various flavours (we just tried pandan kaya, pork floss and caramel bak kwa mooncakes today and that was just one shop!).
What’s your favourite festival, and how do you celebrate it?