The Chinese began celebrating their new year on Feb. 3, and Pine Grove Elementary School joined in the festivities. Prekindergarten teacher Laura Lieker felt it would be an interesting way to teach cultural diversity, reinforce science concepts and practice reading, writing and social skills. Lieker is assisted in her prekindergarten class of 15 special-needs students by paraprofessionals Sharon Gottschalk and Rose Schavel.
"Every year we do the Chinese new year," Lieker said. "We make a big paper dragon. Every year we read Chinese stories we like. We look at the globe.
"We share everything we know about the new year," she said. "The children draw pictures and write dictated stories. They talk about the year's animal. This is the year of the rabbit.
The whole unit culminates with a parade. The students, wearing red and flowered kimonos, lined up to form a dragon.
Lieker led, holding the dragon's head and playing a wooden recorder. The children followed, holding the paper body of the creature over their heads. The children shook instruments —clackers, bells, cymbals and tambourines.
The parade was the opportunity to work on social skills. Such things as maintaining personal space, cooperating with others, following directions and taking turns were practiced during the parade.
As the children marched through classrooms and down walkways, visiting relatives clicked photos and shot video footage.
Rick and Sandy Liebl enjoyed watching their son, Dominic Liebl, 3. "It's nice," said Rick Liebl. "The kids seem to enjoy it a lot. Through things like this, it really helps them open up and do a lot more things than they used to (do)."
He and his wife have been pleased with this kind of activity and the other things going on in Lieker's classroom. "Since he's been here, it's been like night and day with his speech," Rick Liebl said about Dominic. "Everything's connecting, because she makes everything fun. It's a huge difference and I see a lot of difference with the other kids, too. It's very nice."
Sandy Liebl agreed. She said things like the parade warm her heart. "It's just adorable. I can't wait until the next thing."
After the parade, the children tried rice crackers, Chinese noodles (crunchy and soft), water chestnuts, fortune cookies and tea.
Donna Bloom and her mother, Marie Bodtmann, are the grandmother and great-grandmother of 5-year-old Zoe Bloom. Bodtmann was teary-eyed as she talked about the parade. "It just makes your heart happy," she said.
Liam Irizarry, 4, said, for him, the best part of learning about the Chinese new year was the dragon. Bernice Irizarry is pleased that her son is beginning to learn about other places. "It makes me feel so good that he's learning about culture and different things," she said.
Lieker tries to tie lessons into fun activities. As she served the noodles, Lieker sneaked in a quick science tidbit. "Water was our liquid. Noodles were our solid," she said. Then she scooped them into bowls.