Happy Lunar New Year! We are surely having fun with this celebration at the McGaugh Academy this year!

As part of our exploration of China, we recently dedicated a whole day to the study of panda bears. Katie (4) and Eric (17 months) were able to share many of the activities together, and I am finding more frequently as our year progresses that there are ways to include him in our pre-school lessons. This has been an ongoing challenge as we have tried to create a learning rhythm in our home this year—so, thank goodness!

Sometimes when you hear a thumpity thump thump on the door, it turns out to be a panda bear coming for a visit:

The kiddos opened the door to find a panda bear on our doorstep (thank you to my mom for enacting this).

Both of the children are convinced that he is visiting from China. He spent quite a bit of time talking with Katie and Eric when he first arrived. Among other questions, he asked Katie if she remembered where his home (China) was on our globe. She ran right over to the globe, brought it over, and pointed to China. (Tricky panda bear, always sneaking in those formative assessments into conversation).

We talked about the bamboo that panda bears eat and guess what? Our neighbors’ bamboo that has grown into a small part our yard near the fence? Well, it finally came in handy!  It follows the Zen teaching that things aren’t necessarily good or bad; things just are. (That was Zen, right? Or possibly it was from Hamlet: “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” Shakespeare meets Chinese philosophy). Pesky bamboo turns into a great boon for our unit! What fun we had “feeding” it to our panda bear.

Life works out.

We also used a magazine article that I have been saving for two years (since exactly January 2010) about the birth of Yun Zi at the San Diego Zoo. I knew I would use it in our studies some day! While Eric played nearby, I read the article to Katie, and she loved looking at all of the pictures of his sisters and brother. Katie saw footage of Yun Zi eating his birthday cake (with bamboo on it) when we started our China unit. Of course, our visiting panda bear has been christened Yun Zi, as well.

After this, we re-read Zen Shorts by Jon J. Muth. The main character in this book is Stillwater, a panda bear who befriends three children and tells them Zen stories. The stories are three wonderful pieces about gratitude, contentment, and setting aside the burden of anger.

Then we went back outside, cut more bamboo, and made an arrangement.

Over the past week, we’ve been collecting China-themed decor. Our bamboo arrangement (on the black table) sits next to a blue and white Chinese bowl with chopsticks, a figure of Confucius, and Bill’s Chinese abacus. On the hassock, we’ve collected as many animals of the Chinese zodiac as we can find among our stuffed animal collection. Yun Zi, when he is not on the couch, likes to hang out by his animal pals.

We also did a panda bear craft:

I had pre-cut several sizes of black and white circles for the kiddos to make panda bear faces (an activity I have seen many times online). This was a perfect time to review shapes and colors with Eric. Although this project was more on the simple side for Katie, they still had a good time doing this together.

Yun Zi sat nearby as the kiddos drew mouths on their panda bears. We later took these and affixed them to our big China poster, along with a sprig of bamboo.

On “panda bear day” we decided to have a thematic dinner and movie night. The kiddos were excited to see Kung Fu Panda. Eric went to bed about half-way through, which is just as well because the scenes with Tai Lung in the latter part of the film are, for me, fairly intense. Katie quickly discovered a new character that she loves to pretend to be: the Tigress.

For dinner on “panda bear day” we made homemade beef and broccoli, orange peel chicken, and rice. Katie loved playing with the chopsticks.

I haven’t cooked in our wok for quite some time, so it was new for Eric and Katie enjoyed seeing it, too. Our Chinese food was definitely tasty! We used the online recipe for P.F. Chang’s orange peel chicken (I made it a little less spicy for the kiddos, though).

Oh, and I never followed up on this… Our homemade paper turned out all right! I was concerned, since it stayed dark and on the wetter side for a bit. We want to make a second batch, taking care to make the slurry with lighter papers and to spread it more thinly on the deckle. When we finally took it off the deckle and through the couching process, it dried fairly quickly. Katie was able to write on it with a Sharpie, and then we attached some of it to our China poster.

Our first batch of paper, one of the major inventions of the Chinese.

We hope everyone has a beautiful Year of the Dragon!