They made Chinese lanterns and puppets, wore red for good luck and watched practitioners of the martial arts demonstrate kung fu and the traditional lion dance.
And as tokens of the Chinese new year, students at Centennial Lane Elementary School yesterday got red envelopes with a chocolate coin inside, a Chinese gift representing good fortune and prosperity.
It was all part of a day-long celebration marking the start of the Year of the Pig, prompted by Chinese parents and staff members who wanted to share their ethnic heritage at the 695-student school. It was also the first time the school had celebrated the holiday.
"The kids enjoy learning about different cultures. It brings them closer to their classmates," said Monterey Morell, the school's resource teacher for gifted and talented students, who helped organize the event.
Although the county has an Asian population of only about 4.3 percent, nearly a third of Centennial Lane's students are Asian, reflecting the large Asian-American population in its Ellicott City neighborhood.
The school's Asian population is mainly Chinese, Korean and Indian, said Principal Friedel Warner.
Originally, the staff had planned a more limited classroom study of Chinese culture. But a parent contacted Ms. Morell, urging a more elaborate event linked to yesterday's start of the Chinese new year.
"It really mushroomed," Ms. Warner, the principal, said. "It made our Asian children feel proud, too."
Parents helped to coordinate the day's activities, providing teachers with information on Chinese history and cooking Chinese food.
The highlight was the performance by the Washington, D.C.-based Wong Chinese Boxing Association, which demonstrated kung fu and the eye-catching lion dance.
When the 10-foot-long lion with huge silver eyes entered the auditorium, the youngsters were in awe. Beneath the multicolored costume, the dancers jumped in the air to the beat of pulsating music.
The lion dance -- often confused with the dragon dance so popular in parades -- is a traditional new year's event rooted in Chinese legend, director Raymond Wong told the students.
"It is believed on the first day of the year, New Year's Day, there was this creature, a demon, which came down from the mountains and scared everyone," Mr. Wong said.
According to the tale, the creature ate the farmers' crops and returned the next year. The farmers eventually decided to make a look-alike of the creature. When it returned and saw its look-alike, the demon never came back.
"I liked the lion dance. It was fast," said Jenny Chen, 8. "I liked the music, too."
Parents Linda Yang and Chien-Ching Kuo, both natives of Taiwan now living in Ellicott City, said they helped organize the event to promote links between different cultures. "If you stay away from people, they don't understand you," Mrs. Kuo explained.
And such events can help give youngsters a window on other parts of the world, said Ms. Morell, the resource teacher. "I call it a passport to learning," she said.