May is Asian-Pacific Heritage Month: 10 Ways to Enrich Kids’ Appreciation of Asian-Pacific American Culture

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May is Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month—a celebration of Asians and Pacific Islanders in the United States. A rather broad term, Asian-Pacific encompasses all of the Asian continent and the Pacific islands of Melanesia (New Guinea, New Caledonia, Vanuatu, Fiji and the Solomon Islands), Micronesia (Marianas, Guam, Wake Island, Palau, Marshall Islands, Kiribati, Nauru and the Federated States of Micronesia) and Polynesia (New Zealand, Hawaiian Islands, Rotuma, Midway Islands, Samoa, American Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu, Cook Islands, French Polynesia and Easter Island). Help kids celebrate the rich history and culture of the generations of Asian and Pacific Islanders who have contributed to America’s diversity and success with resources from the Smithsonian, the National Park Service, and more in the Federal Registry for Educational Excellence (FREE).

South Asian American Family

Image Source: Smithsonian



1. Make a globe: Help your kids cut and wrap a map of the world around a ball. Show kids how big Asia is compared to our North American continent. As you make it, you can point out the Pacific Ocean area of the world, and how Asia is directly on the opposite side of the world from us.





2. Make lei: Tell your kids about how lei are made and given for occasions like marriages, birthdays, and luaus. Colorful flowers and greenery are braided, twisted, wrapped, or strung together to create lei for the neck, head, wrists, and ankles. Take construction paper and/or tissue paper and twine to make your own lei. Have a lu’au (see Healthy Eating below) and wear them, or give them to friends.

Woman making a lei

Photo of lei-maker Pualani Kanaka’ole Kanahele at 1989 Festival of American Folklife, courtesy Smithsonian Institution

3. Take an online art tour: Show your kids what they can discover about Asian-Pacific artistic contributions by visiting an online interactive exhibit, such as those offered by the Smithsonian’s Freer and Sackler Museums of Asian Art. Notice how some of this art uses mediums like ink on paper; have your kids try their hand at creating similar art with basic supplies, such as paper, pencil, and chalk.

Artwork of a house on a mountain

Reminiscences of Nanjing: One Branch Studio, 1707
Shitao, (Chinese, 1642-1707), Qing dynasty, Source: Smithsonian

Social Studies

4. Find out more other cultures: Ask your kids how many countries make up the Asian-Pacific area of the world. Let them know that it’s not a small number, but instead over three dozen. Put the names of some Asian countries (e.g., Japan, China, South Korea, Philippines, Vietnam) on a piece of paper, crumple into a ball, and put in a pile for kids to pick one. What do they know about that country’s location in the world, what language(s) people might speak, what foods they might eat, and what kind of climate they have.

5. Have a lu’au:  Our own state of Hawaii is part of the Asian-Pacific culture.  Tell your kids that a lu’au is a traditional Hawaiian feast; today the lu’au is a celebration that brings together an entire family and community. The lu’au is a contemporary expression of a traditional Hawaiian feast set with food cooked in an earthen pit oven, covered with hot rocks and leaves and food can include fish, pork, and coconut dishes. Help kids contribute a dish, like Haupia, which is Hawaiian coconut pudding, to the family meal.


6. Learn about the lunar calendar:  Explain to your kids that the lunar calendar is based on phases of the moon, unlike the calendars we typically see at home and in the classroom that are based on the earth’s rotation around the sun.  Observed by people of Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Tibetan, and Mongolian heritage, the Lunar New Year is a time of modern festivity and ancient tradition.

7. Discover more about trees: Let you kids know that in 1912, Japan gave several varieties of over 3,000 cherry trees to the U.S. as a symbol of friendship. These trees were planted in Washington, DC, and produce the well-known cherry blossom. According to the National Park Service, in 1965, Japan gave another 3,800 trees. In 2011, about 120 propagates from the surviving 1912 trees were sent back to Japan to retain the genetic lineage. Look at the different trees in your neighborhood or on the way to school, and see how many different kinds of trees you can find. How can you differentiate among the trees you see—do some have noticeable flowers, like cherry blossoms, in the spring? Are leaves different shapes and sizes on different kinds of tress?

Cherry blossoms

Washington Monument Cherry Trees
National Park Service

Healthy Eating

8. Try making an Asian dish: Think about the area of the world that includes Asian-Pacific countries, and what kinds of foods the people there might eat. Why do you think fish and rice dishes are frequently consumed—could it have to do with people in a lot of Asian and Pacific countries being close to or on the water (look at your globe) or the climate and soil in those areas? Follow a recipe for an Asian American and Pacific Island dish, or watch a video on how it’s done. Many grocery stores carry ingredients common to Asian cuisine. You could also make a special trip to a local Asian market.


9. Read a book with an Asian-Pacific cultural connection:

Get Moving

10. Hike in a local park: Point out that Mount Everest, the tallest point in the world, borders more than one Asian country. Pretend you are going to hike Mount Everest—the slide or jungle gym or other structure at the local playground can be the mountain. What should you pack for your climb? Don’t forget to pack a healthy snack; it takes a lot of energy to climb a mountain!



These are just a few of numerous activities to emphasize the cultural contributions that Asian-Pacific Americans have made to the U.S.  For more ideas, check out

Asian Americans // cherry blossoms // China // Hawaii // Japan // Korea // Let's Move! // luau // National Park Service // Pacific Islanders // Reading Rockets // Smithsonian // Vietnam // May 2, 2014