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Black History Month activities for early childhood education

Activities and Play

2/17/2022 | Mikhal Weiner

It may feel as though winter break was just a moment ago, but it’s actually already February, and that means it’s time for Black History Month. These days, the designation of the month of February as an opportunity to rejoice in Black culture and accomplishments is the status quo but it wasn’t always that way. This month-long celebration of the achievements of Black Americans was signed into law by President Gerald Ford in 1976 but had been evolving through the work of activists and advocates since the early 20th century. With this wide recognition, though, comes the question of how to bring the themes and content of Black History month into a preschool classroom setting. 

The first thing to consider when you’re planning the curriculum for this month is whether you’re introducing these themes for the first time or not. Ideally, celebrating the accomplishments of all kinds of people is something that’s a part of the entire annual curriculum, but it can be hard to keep tabs on all the cultures and diverse backgrounds out there. If you’re talking about diversity and, specifically, about Blackness for the first time, it’s a good idea to take a peek at the SPLC’s Do’s and Don’ts of Teaching Black History. This list is meant for educators who teach all ages, but still provide a nice set of guidelines. Then, take a look at some of these great resources to bring into your school.

Introduce books about Black trailblazers and cultural icons

There are so many incredible iconic Black scientists, inventors, musicians, and writers to learn about, and one of the best ways to do so is to bring them onto the bookshelf. From Serena Williams and Maya Angelou to Mae Jemison and Bessie Coleman, there are preschool-appropriate books out there that tell these stories. The wealth of material can be a great starting point for discussing the dreams and aspirations of your own students as well! If you want to introduce books that celebrate Black culture or feature Black families but don’t focus on a particular individual, there are also plenty of books that follow that approach. These are, in general, a great addition to any bookshelf, as they provide more diversity and openness to the entire school atmosphere.

Bring music from different Black cultures to the school

Music is another great tool for introducing cultures to children. If you sing a song or two at circle time, consider adding songs written or famously performed by Black artists into the mix. Be wary of songs that have been associated with Black culture but actually originate in the racist practice of minstrelsy—these are actually songs performed by white people and do not actually celebrate Black musical innovation. There is so much excellent music out there by Black Americans and plenty of playlists (like this one and this one) that have helpfully aggregated it for easy use. It’s important to remember that Black experiences aren’t a monolith and that the richness of African-American, Pan-African, and Afro-Caribbean musical traditions (among others) is pretty much endless. In the interest of expanding your students’ musical horizons, you could consider playing some music from various African cultures as the soundtrack to your day. Some easy examples to use are this album of Haitian folk songs, this album of West African drum rhythms, and this playlist of classic tunes by South African artists like Miriam Makeba.

Incorporate crafts based on inventions by Black innovators and inventors

In order to really bring the genius and innovations of Black thinkers into the hands of your little ones, it can be fun to bring Black History Month to the craft table as well. Make a lantern inspired by the courage and fortitude of Harriet Tubman, make a paper-plate peanut plant to learn about George Washington Carver’s myriad peanut-based inventions, or make a cardboard guitar to celebrate the inimitable blues guitar player, Sister Rosetta Tharpe. There are plenty of Black innovators out there to learn about, and a craft for each one!

When bringing Black History Month into your classroom, it’s important to remember not to teach only about Civil Rights heroes. While the fight for civil rights and the continuing struggle against discrimination should not be ignored, there is also a great deal of Black excellence to celebrate. By bringing both elements into your lessons, you can create a well-rounded curriculum. 

Mikhal Weiner is a freelance essayist and journalist originally from Israel, currently working and living in Brooklyn. Her writing has been featured by Newsweek, Real Simple, Parents Magazine, and Lilith, among other publications. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @mikhalweiner

Photo by Artem Podrez from Pexels

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