February is Black History Month. Throughout the month, we celebrate the achievements of African Americans and the important role they’ve played in shaping American history, arts, culture, science and more.
For me, the 28 days of February are an ideal time to build a foundation of learning that will help kids recognize and celebrate the achievements of African Americans (and all Americans) throughout the entire year. It also can serve as the perfect excuse to learn about new resources (online and in your hometown) that you can revisit again and again.
Here are 5 ways you can celebrate Black History Month with your family:
1. Read about African-American leaders who shaped our history. Books offer a fantastic way to “introduce” kids to some of the most influential people of our time – who can inspire greatness in all of us.
The “Who Was?…” series of books have a variety of kid-friendly biographies on notable individuals like Jackie Robinson, Rosa Parks, Louis Armstrong, Harriet Tubman, Michelle Obama, Martin Luther King, Jr., and more. Each one allows your child to take a “deep dive” into the life and times of the featured “hero.”
Family Education offers a curated list of 15 children’s books for Black History Month that feature “stories of African-Americans overcoming adversity and making their multicultural mark on the world.” The books feature “heroes” who’ve made an impact on American music, the Civil Rights Movement, baseball, and more.
Over at PBS Kids, you can find a list of books that “bring the black experience to life” and touch on themes like slavery, civil rights, segregation, and heroism. In addition to suggesting books that honor African-American icons of the past, they also share books written by contemporary African-American authors. Some of the featured books include “Please, Baby, Please” by Spike Lee and Tonya Lewis Lee, “This Jazz Man” by Karen Ehrhardt, “Just Like Josh Gibson” by Angela Johnson, and “Goin’ Someplace Special” by Patricia McKissak.
At What Do We Do All Day?, you can find a list of 20 picture book biographies about African-American women – just perfect to read with young girls (and boys, too!). SheKnows also offers a look at four black women who have “opened doors for young girls around the nation” – Zora Neale Hurston, Ella Fitzgerald, Wilma Rudolph, and Harriet Tubman.
2. 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, I try to make an effort to highlight the African Americans who’ve paved the way for some many of us and helped make our lives better, too.
A Chicago Tribune article on “activities to deepen appreciation of black history” includes a great suggestion to engage in an activity that connects African American heroes or leaders of the past to those in our present. For example, when talking about poetry, you can highlight Langston Hughes and Maya Angelou.
At Kid World Citizen, you can find a list famous African-American inventors and their contributions to the world.
Another way to bring the achievements of these great individuals to life is by visiting museums where you can learn more about them first hand. From art to science to history, many of the museums across the nation showcase the inventions, masterpieces, discoveries and other achievements of African Americans.
3. Listen to African-American music that’s influenced American arts and culture. Music can offer a auditory look at the emotions, passions and tribulations of any culture. By listening to music written, composed and played by African Americans throughout our history, you can share those same experiences with your children.
According to the International Business Times, of all “the cultural contributions black Americans have made to the artistic lexicon, their musical influence may be the most ubiquitous, enduring and revolutionary.” The site also notes that blues, soul, R&B, hip-hop and jazz were all either invented or pioneered by black musicians. So, by sharing these musical genres with children, we can help to further introduce them to black musical pioneers – of the past and present.
On Sirius, you can listen to one-hour music program, World Playground by Putumayo , which takes kids on a “musical journey” to experience many of the musical genres shaped by African-American musicians, including folk, blues, jazz and more.
For Black History Month, Spotify is honoring four “eclectic and iconic artists” for a week all month long. The featured artists include Aretha Franklin, Jimi Hendrix, Diana Ross and James Brown, which may be good to listen with your kids based on their ages and/or interests.
But, sometimes it’s not enough to just listen to music at home or in the car. Sometimes you need to go out and hear it live – and that’s something I think kids can appreciate, too. For example, in Chicago, you can head to the House of Blues for its Sunday Gospel Brunch. The weekly event features local talent who perform Gospel songs – while you indulge in an all-you-can-eat buffet! In April, Chicagoans can head to the Old Town School of Folk Music for the music venue’s Playdate at Old Town: Storytelling & West African Dance with Idy Ciss & Mary Peterson.
Also, for kids who like to make and play their own instruments, Marie’s Pastiche shares how to make and play a traditional West African shekere – or homemade gourd rattle.
4. Visit an African-American cultural institution or event (near you or online). Sometimes, seeing, touching and experiencing something for yourself can make it seem more real and impactful.
In my hometown of Chicago, we’re fortunate to be able to visit the DuSable Museum of African American History, which highlights the achievements, contributions, and experiences of African Americans.
But, we’re also glad to be able to participate in cultural events happening across the city in February – and beyond. For example, on February 22, Navy Pier will host a celebration of Africa and Black History Month in partnership with Africa International House USA.
But, obviously geography can prevent us from making it to some of the best institutions across the country. Thankfully, we can travel there via the Internet – without leaving home.
On the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial website, you can read about the people and places that have shaped our history and culture. Over on the National Museum of African American History and Culture website, you can learn about some of the institution’s current exhibits and access resources and learning activities for kids in kindergarten through sixth grade.
The National Park Service website also provides an interactive map of historic places of the Civil Rights Movement, which helps take you to each one – from the comfort of your computer. And, at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History’s website, you can tour the online exhibit, Separate is Not Equal: Brown v. Board of Education, which commemorates the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to make education for everyone the law.
5. Explore the events that have shaped African-American history in the US. Sometimes to understand where people are today, it’s helpful to see the path they’ve taken to get there.
During Black History Month, you can explore resources that can help provide you and your family with a look at the challenges and opportunities that have shaped our collective history.
On PBS.org, you can find a timeline that outlines “The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow” or a “Century of Segregation.
Older kids may enjoy watching all or a portion of the Eyes on the Prize TV series, which spans three decades of history and profiles dozens of events that took place across the US during the Civil Rights Movement from 1954 – 1985.
At The Kennedy Center’s ArtsEdge, you can follow the of the rise of blues as a musical genre as it “travels from the coasts of Africa, through the cotton fields of the Mississippi Delta, across the hills of Appalachia, to the streets of Chicago and beyond.”
How do you plan to celebrate Black History Month with your family? What are your favorite ways to introduce, share and/or celebrate African-American history and culture with your children? Please share your thoughts and plans in the comments below.
This post is part of the Black History Month series on Multicultural Kid Blogs. Be sure to visit the main page for the full schedule and to link up your own posts about sharing Black History Month with kids! And of course, don’t forget to enter our amazing giveaway:
Black History Month GIVEAWAY
Grand Prize Package
A Divah Taylor doll from World of EPI, the company whose mission is to express joy by providing children access to dolls that encourage dreams, promote intelligence, challenge perceptions, and open their hearts to all types of beauty. US Shipping only
Global Wonders: African-American DVD for kids: Join twins Trey and Alisha as their playroom is transformed into a world of dreams and discoveries highlighting the fascinating and influential culture of the African-American family. US & Canada only
One set of ABC Me Flashcards, teaching African-American history from Africa to Zora Neal Hurston! Illustrated in vibrant colors with easy to understand wording on the back. US Shipping only
From Penguin Books, I Am Jackie Robinson by Brad Meltzer US Shipping only.
Also from Penguin Books, Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña US Shipping only.
1st Prize Package
Learn about Black History Month in Spanish with this fun educational pack from Open Wide the World. Students will meet 10 African Americans of historic significance in this packet, at an introductory level.
A three pack of bandages (one of each shade) from Tru-Colour Bandages, the company on a mission to bring bandage equality to the industry by providing bandages in your skin color. US & Canada only
Shekere – a beautiful and unique African gourd instrument –
From East West Discovery Press, Endeavor’s Long Journey by By John D. Olivas US Shipping only.
Black Girls Can: An Empowering Story of Yesterdays and Todays, from Rachel Garlinghouse of White Sugar Brown Sugar US Shipping only
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