Black History Month is a wonderful time to teach children about acceptance, equality, and cultural diversity. Celebrated during the month of February in the United States and Canada, and October in Britain, Black History Month is an opportunity to recognize the achievements and contributions of African-Americans and those of African descent.
I’ve often heard many parents, caregivers and educators say they find it difficult or intimidating to teach younger children about black history due to some of the sensitive topics and images from the past. While I understand some events in our history are very painful (slavery, segregation, blatant discrimination and violence), there are several other topics that can be explored and discussed with children in a fun, lighthearted way. I think it’s important for people to understand that Black history includes more than just slavery and the struggle for civil rights.
Since I’m a mom of two preschoolers, I’m going to focus on books and craft activities recommended for children ages 2 – 6 years old. And while making crafts in honor of black history month isn’t really enough to teach young children about the rich and complicated legacy of African-Americans, I think it’s enough to open their minds. Besides, doing a craft activity is always a good idea, right? Seriously, though, if your goal is to teach older children about Black History I’d suggest coming up with creative and meaningful ways to experience African-American culture in your local area. For example, take the kids to a thought-provoking museum program. I’ll highlight a few other ideas and suggestions later in this post.
Book and Craft Activities for Little Readers (Ages 2 – 6)
Using picture books as your guide, you can read about a particular person or event from history and then reinforce the learning by doing a fun craft. Here are a few suggestions.
1. Read about heroes and heroines from the past. These are people who have emerged as role models for all of our children. Be sure to discuss the obstacles they overcame to make our lives better.
Read This: Boycott Blues: How Rosa Parks Inspired a Nation by Andrea Davis Pinkney
Read This: I Am Rosa Parks by Brad Meltzer
Do This (for Kids ages 2-4)
Have Fun Playing with Buses & Other Things that Go
- Set up a bus station using cardboard boxes or other simple materials. Pretend to be the driver or passenger. Make tickets and signs (great writing practice) and roleplay is giving directions and having conversations.
- Set up a sensory bin with toy buses, cars, people, and whatever other toy props happen to be available.
- Create a “car wash” to give the buses & other transportation toys a good cleaning!
- Drive a toy bus through paint and create tire tracks!
Do This (for Kids ages 5 – 6)
Practice Reading and Incorporate Social Studies
- Create a “parking lot” or “road” with words to practice sight word reading. Drive a toy bus over the words as you read them. (reading activity)
- Match pictures of transportation to printed words. (reading activity)
- Discuss why it was so important for Rosa Parks not to give up her seat on the bus. Talk about different people who take the bus. Where might they be going? Jobs, errands, traveling distances. (social studies)
Read This: I Have a Dream by Kadir Nelson
Read This: I Am Martin Luther King Jr. by Brad Meltzer
Do This (for Kids ages 2-4)
Make a Hand Print Banner or Wreath
- Cut out some hand prints using paper in a variety of skin tone colors. Be sure to make some left hands and some right hands.
- Glue the pairs together and then hang your banner or wreath for everyone to enjoy.
Do This (for Kids ages 5 – 6)
Seeds of Diversity Garden
Martin Luther King’s dream was to see people of all countries, races, and religions living together in harmony.
To do this project:
- Gather seeds of different kinds and invite each student to plant a variety of seeds in an egg carton. The seeds of different shapes, sizes, and colors will sprout side by side.
- Once the plants are large enough, transplant them into a large pot in the classroom or a small garden outside.
- If you do this project with some of the school classes, each class in the school might do the project on its own, culminating in the creation of a beautiful, colorful, and diverse school-wide garden!
Make Dream Clouds!
- Let children take a moment and think about what they want to be when they grow up and how they hope to be living. Ask them to imagine what type of achievements they hope to have accomplished. Do they Flower: to go to a particular college? Play in a certain sports tournament? Encourage them to create a list of all of the goals and dreams most important to them.
- Help them cut out small “thought bubble”-shaped clouds from the construction paper; one bubble for each goal that they have written out. They can make the clouds out of white paper or cut them out a paper of each color of the rainbow; the choice is theirs!
- Once your child has cut out one cloud for each goal, ask them to talk about a few of their dreams. If unable to do it for themselves, take over and write one on each cloud.
- Help them to carefully cut strips off of the magnetic sheets. These are usually self-adhesive on the back, so they will just need to peel off the paper backing and stick one to the back of each cloud.
- Once each bubble has a magnetic strip attached, allow your child to hang their goals up on the bulletin board or fridge (if homeschooling) and share their visions for the future with others.
Do This (for Kids Ages 4 – 6)
Make a Black History Quilt
- Choose one or more children’s biographies to read.
- Encourage children to draw a picture based on one scene from the life of each person about whom they have read.
- Mount each picture on a larger sheet of colored paper, and attach pages to a wall to form a quilt of famous African-Americans. Example biographies include Harriet Tubman, Ella Fitzgerald, Frederick Douglass, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, Maya Angelou, Oprah Winfrey, and Josephine Baker.
2. Discuss and explore different items that African-American inventors have contributed to society. Many of the things we use in everyday life were invented by African-Americans. For example, the traffic light, the refrigerated truck, the zipper, the ironing board, peanut butter, and the list goes on!
Read This: A Weed Is a Flower : The Life of George Washington Carver by Aliki
Do This (for Kids ages 2 and up)
Cooking Activity: Make a Peanut Butter (or Almond Butter) Snack
In this activity, children will use counting, classification, and sensory skills as they help prepare peanut butter (or a peanut butter substitute).
You will need:
Measuring spoons, measuring cup, blender, plastic knives,
crackers, small bowls, small plates, and napkins.
1 1/2 to 3 tablespoons corn oil to 1 cup peanuts
1/2 teaspoon salt for each cup of peanuts
- Allow children to shell the peanuts and help measure the ingredients.
- Place all of the ingredients in the blender and turn on at a low speed until the peanut butter is smooth.
- Place the peanut butter in small bowls so children can use plastic knives to spread it on crackers for a snack.
Note: Of course you want to avoid this activity if children have any nut allergies.
3. Learn about the many “famous firsts” in African-American history. As a parent, I love to share stories of the individuals who were the “first” to accomplish a great feat – regardless of their race. During Black History Month (and every month), I try to make an effort to highlight African-Americans who’ve paved the way for us and helped to make our lives better.
Read This: Gordon Parks: How the Photographer Captured Black and White America by Carole Boston Weatherford
Gordon Parks is most famous for being the first black director in Hollywood.
Do This: (for Kids Ages 4 – 6):
Direct Your Own Movie
- Let kids take turns acting as a movie director and designate others to be actors and actresses.
- Perform a scene from the kids’ favorite movie.
- Pop some popcorn with the kids afterward for a yummy snack!
Read This: Molly, by Golly! The Legend of Molly Williams, America’s First Female Firefighter by Dianne Ochiltree
Molly Williams was America’s first female firefighter.
Do This: (for Kids Ages 2 – 6)
Play Stop, Drop, and Roll
- Practice stop, drop and roll – Explain to the children that if their clothes ever catch on fire, they should “stop, drop, and roll.”
- Demonstrate the proper technique in the classroom (or at home) and place some felt flames on their clothing and let children practice stop, drop, and roll until the flames are off the clothes.
Fly High!: The Story of Bessie Coleman by Louise Borden & Mary Kay Kroeger
Bessie Coleman was the first African-American to earn a pilot’s license.
Do This: (for Kids Ages 2 – 6)
Make an Airplane Scene
Have children paint two craft sticks any way they want. When dry, glue them to look like an airplane on blue construction paper. Allow them to decorate the sky with clouds (cotton balls), or any other ideas they have.
Other great books to explore
Here are a few additional activity suggestions for older kids:
- Allow children to research and possibly interview local successful or influential African-Americans (with parental supervision). Examples may include church pastors, teachers, business owners, performers, musicians, authors, and athletes – anyone who has made a great, positive impact on the community. Then children can prepare a presentation and introduce their community member to the class.
- Let children study and research an African-American inventor of their choice. Then allow them to present their findings to the class and write a report about their chosen inventor. Perhaps even demonstrate the invention in class if possible!
- Memorize poems were written by Black poets and then present them to the class.
- Re-enact a scene from a movie, book or famous event from history. For example, Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad or the Harlem Renaissance.
I believe Black History Month is about teachable moments, no matter how big or small. I hope I’ve provided you with some useful ideas and book suggestions for children of all colors. You don’t need a packaged curriculum or rigid adherence to school standards to craft a quality educational experience for children. All you need is the desire to inspire, encourage, and educate.
About the All-Star blogger:
Charnaie is a wife and mom of two children, ages 2 and 3. She focuses on books, reading, and literacy and is passionate about daily reading aloud. Charnaie shares her reading tips, writes book reviews, and hosts book giveaways at Here Wee Read.