Gold Room Chinese Dragon Explorations

The children’s interest began with a book by Marcia Vaughan called ”The Dancing Dragon.” They seemed especially interested in the long, colorful, accordion-style dragon picture in the book. They read this book in the music studio with Ms. Ann and they got a chance to use ribbons to explore the wave-like movements of the dragon as they danced to Chinese music.

The interest in dragons was apparent in the classroom as the children sought out various languages with which to creatively explore this topic. We began to see the children drawing pictures of dragons and including dragons in their creative play. To inspire their thinking, we presented them with different materials to explore and create with.

The children began their exploration into actual Chinese Dragon Dances by watching videos real performances and making initial observations. They seemed particularly interested in how the performers made the dragon move to the music and create different shapes with the dragon. When presented with the question of whether this was something we could do as a class, they immediately started thinking about what they needed to do to get it done.

Student: I noticed the leader had a little circle or a stick.
Student: It helped them make sure they were doing the right thing at the same time.
Student: They did shapes and moves and I heard cymbals and other instruments.
Student: We would have to make it long for all of us.
Student: We could make the dragon go super fast!

They quickly realized that it was going to be a lot of work! As they began talking about the performers, the costumes, the music, and the dragon itself, they faced the challenge of how to organize themselves so they could accomplish this complex task. This is a moment where we felt it was valuable for us as adults to share our knowledge with the children to help them move forward with the process. We introduced them to the idea of using committees to divide the work and to work most efficiently.

Student: We have committees because we’re doing a big job and it would be so tired to do all the jobs. I would be thirsty and hungry.

First, we had a large group discussion to determine what a committee actually is. The children had a lot of great ideas and all agreed that committees were a great way to split up the work so they wouldn’t get too tired and hungry.

Following our conversations about committees, we watched the performance again and the children created a list of committees for our project while a teacher wrote them down. Then, they thought about their individual skills and interests and chose which committee they wanted to be on.

Committee work offers the children the opportunity to practice compromise and problem solving and to develop strong communication skills. It requires that the children listen respectfully to their friends in order to come to an agreement. One child cannot just begin drawing whatever they want, they need to come up with a plan together.

In the Art Studio, the children sketched out some of their designs for the giant costume. The referenced the book that was the original inspiration for the whole project, “The Dancing Dragon” by Marcia Vaughan.

To begin constructing their own dragon costume, they worked in committees. The first committee to meet was the dragon head committee. They looked at pictures of dragons used in dragon dances for inspiration to create the design for our head. They were most intrigued by using many different colors around the head to create a rainbow effect. They also decided that it was very important for the dragon to have white, pointy teeth and nostrils that were red so they looked like fire. Then they took turns drawing the design.

The body committee met next and they also used pictures of dragons as a reference. This group was inspired by the wave-like motion of some of the dragons and decided to use a stripe design throughout the body. They also wanted to make it colorful and chose to add small fish.

“It is like lines going up and down like waves.”

The tail committee had the extra challenge of having to match their design to the decisions made by the body committee. First, they looked at the body design to determine how to best create the tail so it fit together. They noticed that the body was colorful and had stripes so they used the same design in their tail. They also realized that the body ended with red so they used red on the right side to create a seamless design. This group was excited to add a flame-like end to their tail.

After designing the dragon costume, the parents were tasked with making the vision a reality. For their Reggio Night, the Gold Room parents were invited to come and follow the design of their children to make the dragon costume. They were encouraged to break into committees, just like their children had, and use materials in the Art Studio.

Back in the classroom, we welcomed Nelson Ferreirra and two of his friends, from the Zhong Yi Kung Fu Association, to our school. They provided the children with a hands-on, engaging experience about lion and dragon dances in Chinese culture. This provided a meaningful extension to what the children have been studying for the past couple of months, and offered us a basis from which to plan our own dragon dance performance.

Later, the costume committee remembered that the dragon performers all wore the same outfits so they decided that we will wear a white shirt and black pants for our show. Some members of the group wanted a way to express their individuality as well so they decided to create headbands for everyone to decorate. They also want to wear glow sticks! To make sure everyone has a costume to wear, the music committee created a note for everyone to take home.

Do you have 1. White Shirt 2. Black Shorts/Pants for our show?

Then the music group decided on the groups of instruments that will be used and the choreography group created dance moves to match each music part. The children created a visual music map, which serves as a visual guide for the performers.  Music maps are a tool that the children have used in the music studio this year. They help children organize what they are hearing and identify form in music.

The dance/choreography committee worked on assigning dance moves to each of the four parts of the music. Then, they figured out how to use their bodies to represent each move.

Finally, the children attached the pictures of their moves to the music map. This will serve as a tool for us to identify the four parts of music in our dance and to see which dance goes with each part.

Fast Music – Fast Waves

Drums – Side to Side

Metal Instruments – Slow Wave

Wood Instruments – Circle

Throughout this process, the children had been working on dragon sculptures in the Art Studio. Over the course of a couple weeks, they made armatures for their dragons, then covered them in paper mache, painted and decorated them. 

At the end of the project, the children organized a dragon dance performance. The children were so excited to share the culmination of their hard work and are very proud of what they accomplished. We have seen how meaningful this experience has been for the children and have been inspired by their passion and perseverance over the past few months. This was a project that, from beginning to end, was planned and completed by the children and hopefully it is something that will stay with them for a long time to come.

“If we didn’t have committees, this would be much harder!”

Reflection by Alyssa Lunde and Carrie Smith, Gold Room Teachers