Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead book cover

By Michelle Luke

As spring begins, so does a new year for people from certain cultural traditions, including the Chinese tradition that my family follows. This Spring Festival is a time to greet the Lunar New Year and welcome a new animal from the Chinese zodiac.

In this tradition, each year is the year of a different zodiac animal. People born in the year of a particular animal are said to possess some of that animal’s qualities. For example, those born in the year of the rabbit are supposed to be gentle and kind, while those born in the year of the tiger are considered courageous. Similarly, different years are believed to hold different fortunes for people depending on their birth animal’s relationship with that year’s animal. So people born in the year of the rabbit will experience the year of the ox very differently than those born in the year of the dragon.

Because of this belief that each year holds different surprises for different people, the Spring Festival is also a time of fortune-telling—something we can use as the basis of a fun and brain-boosting Lunar New Year activity for kids. In this literacy craft, telling fortunes creates the perfect opportunity to work on reading skills. Kids won’t even realize they’re practicing as they read the same sight words (or sound out the same longer words) over and over while telling their friends’ and family’s fortunes. This game even builds mindfulness, as kids share positive messages and concentrate on hopeful wishes for the future. Enjoy!

Pen or pencil
Plain paper (square shape)

Cost: Free

Origami Diagram (1)

Step 1: Get a square piece of paper or trim a regular piece of printer paper into a square. Fold your paper in half, creasing well, then fold it in half again. Unfold the paper, so the creases create a grid.

Step 2: Fold each corner point to the center, creasing well. Flip over (without unfolding!) and do the same on the other side. (See diagram below.)

Step 3: Fold in half. Reach under the flaps with the thumb and index finger of each hand. Push your fingers up and towards each other, causing the fortune-teller to bend at the center creases. Use your thumb and index finger to open and close the mouth of the fortune-teller both horizontally (side to side) and vertically (top to bottom).

Step 4: Open up your fortune-teller. Write numbers on the first set of triangles. Open those up, and trace the crease-lines in pen to create eight segments, like those shown in the picture. Then help your child think of eight benevolent wishes that can be summed up in a word or two (such as hope, joy, love) and write one inside each segment.

Step 5: Fold the flaps back down, flip your fortune-teller over, and have your child choose words for the top flaps. These can be words they’re practicing or words they want to learn. I wrote Happy Lunar New Year on mine, but you could also use sight words or any other set of words.

Bonus: If you want to reinforce the Lunar New Year aspect of the activity, use the names of some animals of the Chinese zodiac: rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog and pig. For new readers, write ox, rat, dog, and pig. Children ready for more of a challenge can learn to spell and read the longer names, such as dragon, rabbit, monkey, and rooster.

All done! Now it’s time to play. Here’s how:

To tell someone’s fortune, have them choose a word from the outside flaps. Spell the word aloud while using your fingers to make the fortune-teller open and close horizontally and vertically, alternating between the two ways to open. Say one one letter each time you open the fortune-teller.

Keep the fortune-teller open to the segment visible when you say the last letter, and have the person choose one of the numbers showing.

Count the number out loud, opening the fortune-teller on each count (again, alternate opening horizontally and vertically). Stop when you get to the designated number.

Finally, the person chooses one last number, from those showing on the segments you landed on this time. This is the flap that will be opened to reveal their fortune. Lift the flap with the number they chose and read their fortune.

Your little one can read the fortunes of family and friends as many times as they like. It’s great fun, and they’ll be reinforcing their reading skills and spreading positive vibes as they play.