February is the month we annually observe and celebrate the contributions of Black Americans through Black History Month. The tradition began in 1926, when historian Carter G. Woodson, PhD and the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASLAH) brought attention to the severe underrepresentation of the contributions Black people have made throughout American history by starting Negro History Week. Fifty years later, Negro History Week was expanded to the month-long celebration we know today. The group chose February to coincide with the birthdays of President Abraham Lincoln and abolitionist Frederick Douglass.
Black History Month honors the rich diversity of thought, traditions, structures, and experiences of Black people and puts time on the calendar for schools, families, and communities to intentionally take a closer look at important contributions to history that are often neglected during the other months of the year.
Studies show over and over that by three years old, children notice the racial bias they see in the world around them and start developing their own biases. By 4 or 5, those same studies tell us that white children begin showing racial bias and their Black peers begin to feel racial discrimination.1
Today’s children are tomorrow’s adults. Only through thoughtful examination of the past can we build a path to an equitable and inclusive future. Through Black History Month, we are reminded to deeply examine and know African American history – to uplift the stories and narratives of Black people in America (yes, even the difficult ones), celebrate Black culture, and honor all history that has contributed to that story.
Exploring the topics of history and race helps build social skills such as perspective-taking and empathy. And through that exploration, there is also an opportunity to expand children’s vocabulary around important and timely topics. Consider choosing activities that include these vocabulary words:
- Abolition: wanting to end slavery and racism
- Equity: being fair and giving people what they need
- Racism: unfair treatment of people based on how you look/the color of your skin
- Inclusion: where everyone feels special/ when all people are welcome
Sharing these topics with children may feel a bit awkward, especially given recent happenings across our country. Remember that you’re not alone. There are lots of resources and activities that you can use to have open and honest conversations with children (even our youngest learners) about the role of racism in Black history and American history. Here are a few of our favorite springboards to delve into these complex topics and broaden perspectives:
- reading books by and featuring Black people;
- visiting museums featuring Black art and history;
- watching historically accurate films;
- supporting Black-owned businesses and restaurants;
- attending Black History Month events in your community.
- Virtual or hybrid learning environments and maintaining social distancing practices add some new challenges to uplifting and exploring Black history, but there are lots of free resources to support your conversations. Many Black history museums have started offering virtual tours, allowing you and your children to explore new places and important concepts in a safe way. Try pairing a particular exhibit or collection with a specific reading to reinforce learning and understanding. For example, pair art from the Smithsonian’s Activism collection with A is for Activist by Innosanto Nagara or Martin & Mahalia: His Words, Her Song by Andrea Davis Pinkney. Here are some more of our favorite virtual options you can share with children:
Use books to guide rich, meaningful conversations around uplifting the voices, narratives, and histories of Black people. Books and stories are always a great way to showcase diversity and create culturally responsive experiences that are relatable for younger kids. Books can help you talk about difficult topics – when you don’t have the right words, find an author that does! Here are some of our favorite books that highlight Black authors, characters, families, and history:
- A is for Activist by Innosanto Nagara
- Brian’s Bird – Patricia Davis
- Follow Your Dreams, Little One by Vashti Harrison
- Hair Love by Matthew A. Cherry (or check out the Oscar winning short film)
- Harlem’s Little Blackbird: The Story of Florence Mills by Renee Watson and Christian Robinson
- Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad by Ellen Levine and Kadir Nelson
- I Am Perfectly Designed by Karamo Brown, with Jason Rachel Brown
- Julián Is a Mermaid by Jessica Love
- Mae Among the Stars by Roda Ahmed and Burrington, Stasia
- Meet ClaraBelle Blue by Adiba Nelson
- My Princess Boy – Cheryl Kilodavis
- So Tall Within: Sojourner Truth’s Long Walk Toward Freedom by Gary D. Schmidt and Minter, Daniel
- The 1619 Project: Born on the Water by Nikole Hannah-Jones and Renée Watson
- The Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage by Selina Alko
As you read the book or tell a story, be sure to use the TALK strategy to engage in meaningful conversations around the story.
T is for Tune In: get into the child’s world and let them know that what they are thinking, or feeling is important.
I was thinking about the story we just read, and I noticed you….
A is for Ask: ask open-ended questions to encourage back and forth conversation.
Why do you think……..?
L is for Lift Language: model the language you want your child to use in the future.
Recognize their answer and expand on what they say by adding rich, complex language using sophisticated words, then answer the question yourself to show a language-rich response.
K is for Keep it going: Aim for multiple back and forth exchanges with your child around the story.
Remember to Strive for Five – try to go back-and-forth with your child 5 times. #striveforfive
This Black History Month, we urge you to plan at least one discussion around racism and Black history (check out this article for some great tips and information). Don’t stop there. Emphasizing the importance of equity and inclusion during these formative years is essential to cultivate change, build empathy, encourage perspective-taking, and teach kids to consider other’s feelings and experiences that may be different from their own. Black history is American history. Include it in your history discussions all year long to build vocabulary, social skills and greater understanding of the American experience.
FREE Access to Stories: Check out the links below to access these books from home!
|Epic Books and their curated Black History Month Collection||A digital reading website with many high-quality digital versions of picture books.||Free for Teachers, Free 30-day trial for families|
|Overdrive||A website and mobile app created for borrowing e-books. Access with your local library card.||Free|
|Local Library||Many libraries offer both in-person and online access to books.||Free|
|YouTube||Read alouds of every book listed above, and many more.||Free|