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Make a Chinese Dragon

First Grade Chinese New Year Activities: Make a Chinese Dragon

See more activities in: First Grade, Chinese New Year

For centuries, the dragon has been a cherished symbol in many Asian cultures. Dating back to ancient times, the Chinese adorned buildings, monuments, and other important architectural structures with images of these mighty (and graceful) creatures. Dragons are believed to represent the Chinese emperors, and are the first of the four Divine Creatures in Chinese culture (the other three are the unicorn, the phoenix, and the tortoise). Make this dragon relief with your first grader to celebrate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month and teach her about an important part of Chinese culture.

What You Need:

  • Modeling clay
  • 8" x 10" cardboard square
  • Pencil
  • Clay tools (you can use craft sticks or even plastic spoons or anything else you think might work)
  • Optional: Tempera paints and brushes

What You Do:

  1. Ask your child to sketch a picture of a dragon onto the cardboard with a pencil. This should be loose, and not highly detailed. Ancient architectural dragon reliefs often feature many curved or curled lines that bend and wrap around each other. Instead of straight lines or simple shapes, encourage your child to make rolling lines that almost look like waves. If you like, you and your child can look up some different examples of images of Chinese dragons, either online or in a book.
  2. Once your child is satisfied with her picture, help her cover the pencil lines with a thin tube of clay, following along the lines. Create the outlines by pulling apart the clay into smaller pieces. Make tube shapes by rolling the clay in between your hands until a long, smooth strand of clay is created. You can make your clay outlines as thick or as thin as you like, using different thicknesses for different parts of the dragon. Use these pieces to outline your dragon picture. Press this directly onto the lines. This is great fine motor practice!
  3. If you notice that the clay is not sticking to the cardboard, add a small amount of clear-drying, non-toxic school glue under the clay. Once it dries, it will hold the clay and cardboard together.
  4. Add details and texture to the relief with the clay tools. Use a craft stick end to make small snake like scales on the dragon, or simply design a unique pattern. Encourage your child to be creative with her clay!
  5. If you like, you can add color to your relief with tempera paints. You can apply this directly over the clay and the cardboard. Color choice may depend on the specific type of dragon or mythology you're using, such as the yellow or gold dragon.
  6. When you and your child are done, display with pride!

There are many different types of dragons, each with their own unique mythology and appearance. Some tales depict the dragon as combination of many different animals such as the camel, deer, tiger, and eagle. Other legends represent the dragon as a powerful symbol associated with happiness or even rain and weather. Your child can learn about the cultural aspects of the Chinese dragon by researching the ancient mythology, and then creating a low sculptural relief that's filled with swirling details and powerful imagery!

Erica Loop has a MS in Applied Developmental Psychology from the University of Pittsburgh's School of Education. She has many years of teaching experience working in early childhood education, and as an arts educator at the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh.

Updated on Feb 5, 2014
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See more activities in: First Grade, Chinese New Year
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