February is Black History Month, an annual celebration dedicated to highlighting the important roles African Americans have played throughout history. This can be a great opportunity to teach your children about the importance of diversity and inclusion, as well as the damaging effects of racism. It is also a time to honor the culture and humanity of the Black community, something we should be doing every day. So, if you are looking for fun ways to celebrate Black History Month with kids, you’ve come to the right place.
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How did Black History Month Begin?
In the United States, the idea of Black History Month originated with historian Carter G. Woodson, who is known as the “father of Black history”, in 1926. He wanted to set aside time to educate people about African American History.
It began as a week-long observation during the second week in February because it is in line with Fredrick Douglas and Abraham Lincoln’s birthdays. It then became a month-long celebration in 1976, under President Gerald Ford, and has stayed that way ever since.
Black History Month isn’t just observed in the United States. Canada and Germany also celebrate Black History Month in February while the UK, Netherlands, and Ireland celebrate in October.
Why do we celebrate Black History Month?
As mentioned above, Woodson proposed Black History Month as a time to educate people. However, as time goes on and we strive to become more inclusive and anti-biased as a people, the goals also change. Although for many White people, Black History Month is a reminder of the need to educate themselves, it is also a time to celebrate and honor not only the legacy of Black men and women but also their value and worth as people.
As Danté Stewart said “Black History Month is not about white education, white progress, or making white people “get it”. It is about loving black people, telling our stories, and creating a better world for us to live in. It is about embracing the fullness of our humanity, complexity, and power.”
Black History is an integral part of history that should be taught every day, not just one month a year.
How to Celebrate Black History With Kids Every Month
Although celebrating Black History Month with kids is great, honoring the BIPOC community all year long is even better. Here are some ideas to help you get started:
- Petition your local school district for a more well-rounded history curriculum.
- Add de-colonized history to your home library. Take time to read together and compare the ideas to what your kids learn at school.
- Fill your home with books that show BIOPCs as main characters. Tip: Look for books written and illustrated by BIOPC authors.
- Regularly watch movies with BIOPCs as main characters.
- Talk with your kids about race. Discuss how the idea came to be and how it affects our daily lives. (This free eBook has some great tips.)
- Diversify your friend group. Find ways to spend time with other families who don’t share your religious, racial, or ethnic background.
- Support Black-owned businesses.
- Donate to charities that support Black communities or Anti-Racism efforts.
How do you introduce Black History Month to kids?
It can feel very daunting to introduce Black History Month to kids because it often brings up a lot of questions you may not feel ready to answer.
Hear this: It is OK if you don’t know the answers. This is a journey that you have to take at your own pace and it is perfectly OK to walk alongside your children instead of leading them down the path. The most important part is just to take the journey. Find the answers. Tell the truth. Don’t ignore it and sweep them under the rug because it makes you feel uncomfortable. Be brave my fellow Mama or Papa, you can do this.
If this is all new for you, start by reading and watching movies about people of color. Introduce your kids to notable figures like Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. but also explore materials that show people of color just being people. When it comes up, enter into conversations about race and racism (again, the ebook will guide you through this) to help kids understand why Black History Month even needs to exist.
Keep reading for age-appropriate recommendations to celebrate Black History Month with kids.
Please note that many of the resources I list are focused on racism. As a White person, that is where I am in my journey, I still need to learn more. However, I include links to book and movie lists from Black authors that offer options focused more on Black life and culture than racism.
How to Celebrate Black History Month with Infants/Toddlers
You may be wondering if it is truly necessary to have these conversations at such a young age.
The answer is yes. Children notice differences in skin tone as early as six months.
You don’t necessarily need to explore history with your baby but you can read diverse children’s books together and talk about skin tone. Children learn through their environment so give them a diverse environment to explore!
Books to Read
Young, Gifted, and Black by Jamia Wilson
This encouraging book even has a mirror for your little one to see him or herself in this story of excellence.
Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History/Little Legends: Exceptional Men in Black History by Vashti Harrison
Both these books tell of well-known black women and men and some who aren’t so well known, but should be.
Black History Month Activities
Play with Black Dolls or Puppets
Diversifying your child’s toys is a great way to normalize the reality that we don’t all look alike. Our world is a beautiful tapestry of colors and that is a good thing!
Point Out Colors
Point out skin color as you read/play, just as you would with any other color. For example, “Oh look, her shirt is red, her pants are blue, her skin is dark brown and her hair is black! Do you have black on today?”
How to Celebrate Black History Month with Preschoolers
With preschoolers, you can begin to go a little deeper into the history side and start having real conversations.
Books to Read
There is so much to love about this beautiful book. The sweet bond between father and daughter and the celebration of natural hair is just the beginning.
Mae Among the Stars by Roda Ahmed
This book tells the story of Mae Jamison, the first African American woman in space. However, it is also an inspirational story for all little people with big dreams.
Kayla: A Modern-Day Princess by Deedee Cummings
I got the pleasure of learning about this book through Multicultural Children’s Book Day. It is based upon the life of Broadway actress, Kayla Pecchioni, and is written to inspire little girls around the world.
Movies to Watch
I love the diversity of the Madrigal family. It also opens up the door to talk with your child about how Black History and Latinx History are also interconnected.
This is the heart-warming tale of a musician who worked his whole life to achieve his dream of playing jazz music, only to realize that he’d been living out his purpose all along.
The Princess and the Frog
This movie featured the very first African American Disney Princess. It tells of ambitious Tiana doing whatever it takes to make her father’s dream of opening a restaurant a reality.
*Please note that both these movies have received some “feedback” because the main characters spend most of the movie in other forms (a frog and a soul), which some argue tells its own story about pop culture’s view of Blackness. It may be an interesting topic to discuss with older kids, or even your partner, after watching the movies.
- Make Skin Tone Playdough
- Draw self-portraits with skin color crayons. I love this colors of the world kit from Crayola!
Here are some more amazingly creative Black History Month crafts to celebrate Black Inventors with Preschoolers.
How to Celebrate Black History Month with Kindergartners-Second Grade
Books to Read
Martin’s Big Words by Doreen Rappaport
I love that this book tells MLK’s story in his own words. It also highlights how everyone has the power to make a difference.
Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford
This book tells the story of Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad.
The Day You Begin by Jaqueline Woodson
Anything by Jaqueline Woodson is a great pick. I love that this book talks about embracing your whole, unique self. However, “The Other Side” which focuses on the harm of segregation, is another great choice.
The ABC’s of Black History by Rio Cortes
Practice the alphabet while learning about African American history, what a great combination! I expected this book to be geared toward younger kids but instead it was a beautiful poem about the reality of Black lives and culture. The page about the US made me choke up a little bit…
Movies to Watch
Akeelah and the Bee
Akeelah is a talented speller but can she make it to the National Spelling Bee? This is a tale of perseverance and the value of a supportive community.
Children will relate deeply with this one because Ruby was just six years old when she was picked to be the first African American to integrate into her local elementary school.
If your kids like podcasts, these Hidden Heroes of History from the Dorktales Storytime Podcast are amazing.
- The paint chip activity
- Take a nature walk and look for items in nature that match your skin tone
- The egg experiment
- Make your skin tone art project: mix paint colors to see if you can create a color that matches your skin tone
(You can find detailed descriptions of these activities in the eBook)
How to Celebrate Black History Month with Older Elementary Students
Books to Read
Seeds of Change by Jen Johnson
This book tells the story of Wangari Maathai, an environmentalist who was the first African woman to win a Nobel Peace Prize. You can find a helpful teacher’s guide here.
The March Series by John Lewis
This series of graphic novels portray the life of activist turned Congressman John Lewis and his role during the Civil Rights Movement.
We are Teachers has an amazing list of biographies about boundary breakers and change-makers.
Movies to Watch
Remember the Titans
For the first time, their football team is racially integrated. They know they have a chance to be great, but first, they have to learn how to work as a team.
The Color of Friendship
A White South African girl spends a semester with a Black family in the United States and her whole world view changes.
Simone Biles: Courage to Soar
This movie illustrates how hard Simone Biles had to work to achieve the title “greatest gymnast of all time”. This will inspire all kids to have courage when faced with difficulties.
If your family loves movies, here are some more options that are appropriate for all ages.
How to Teens and Adults Can Honor Black History Month
Books to Read
Black Buck by Mateo Askaripour
This is a satirical tale about how racism and classism play out in the corporate world.
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
This book tells the tale of a high school girl who is constantly straddling two worlds: her neighborhood and her fancy prep school. Yet, when she watches a police officer shoot her best friend, everything changes.
The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
If you want to shatter your worldview and thoughtfully pick it back up again, this is the book for you. It is an account of how the caste-like system that keeps African American men and women from the rights promised to them in the Civil Rights Movement came to be.
I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown
I love this book. It has made me pause, reflect, and search for ways to do better more times than I can count. Austin does a beautiful job of drawing you into her story and helping you feel her pain and frustration while she navigates racial reconciliation work in the Christian community as a Black female.
If you are looking for more amazing books to read, check out this list of titles.
If you prefer podcasts to books, the 1619 Project by the New York Times is a great listen. It outlines the link between slavery and the American economy.
Movies to Watch
I am Not Your Negro
This movie is a documentary/commentary on the history of race/racism in the United States.
Colin in Black and White
This Netflix original series is amazing! Quarterback Colin Kaepernick reflects on how being biracial and raised in a White family, influenced his childhood, life and career.
It wouldn’t be a complete list without this classic. In case you haven’t seen it, “Selma” chronicles Martin Luther King Jr.’s mission to secure voting rights for everyone.
If you are looking for more amazing movies that focus more on everyday life than racial tension, here are some great options.
How to celebrate Black History Month in the classroom
You want to celebrate black history month with kids in your classroom but need a structured lesson plan, you say? Well, these are the online resources for you:
Black History Month Lessons
- The NEA has a great list of lesson plans. My favorite is “Teaching Hard History” for younger grades.
- Scholastic News offers some great free articles along with games and activities to help students learn more.
- iCivics provides several lessons for upper grades.
Encourage a School-Wide Celebration
When I was a Spanish teacher, we were in charge of Hispanic Heritage Month. Our celebration was always low-key. We would show a movie that represented the culture after school and have our Spanish students do projects about influential Latinx people throughout history that we would post in the hall.
I wish we would have done more, but I give these examples to show you that it doesn’t take much to bring the student body together. Why not start something similar at your school?
Use a De-Colonized History Text
African American History is American History. We should see just as many Black and Brown faces in our history books as we do White. The stories we share should be told from everyone’s point of view, not just the White perspective. If you are in charge of selecting a curriculum, consider proposing something from this list.
How to celebrate Black History Month at Home
The majority of these activities can be done at home or in the classroom. However, the beauty of exploring the rich importance of Black culture and life at home is that you can take what you learn and put it into action. Here’s what I mean:
Leave your bubble
I am a big advocate of getting out of your comfort zone and meeting new people. Issues don’t become real for you until you start associating them with a face of a real person that you love and care about.
So, I don’t care what you identify as, take inventory of your friend group. If there aren’t any Black people on that list, it is time to get out of your bubble and diversify your life.
This is a long-term goal. You can’t make a true friend overnight. However, it is 100% worth the effort, for you and your kids, to get to know people whose backgrounds differ from your own. You will all be better people because of it.
Explore How to Be Better Neighbors
We all know about the Black Lives Matter Movement. We’ve all heard the cries for justice and equality. Yet, all too often, we turn away using the excuse that there is nothing we can realistically do.
It’s time to leave that lie and become a part of the solution.
There is so much that you can do.
What item(s) from this list can you add to your life long term? How can you be a better neighbor to your Black brothers and sisters? How can you help fight for equality and justice in your community, and as Danté Stewart says, create “a better world for us to live in”?
Learning is great but it only truly makes a difference when we turn our knowledge into action.
I hope this list of age-appropriate books, movies, and activities has given you tons of ideas to celebrate Black History Month with kids. If you want to learn more about how to talk to kids about race, be sure to download the “How to Talk To Kids About Race Without Breaking A Sweat” eBook to start incorporating these principles into everyday conversations. With this resource in hand, it should be easier than ever (and fun!) to talk