America has been celebrating Black history since the 1920s, when Dr. Carter Godwin Woodson, the founder of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, helped launch “Negro History Week” as be a way for Americans to celebrate the history and contributions of Black citizens past and present. He chose February to align with the birthdays of both Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. In the 1970s, the celebration was expanded to include the entire month of February.
Whatever age your kiddo is, this annual celebration presents an opportunity to teach them more about the importance of diversity. But it’s always a good time to learn more about Black history and find creative ways to celebrate it with our kids—after all, Black history is American history. So find ways to include lessons about the pride, struggles, and joys of Black history with your kids all year long! These five activities can help you kick things off.
Make a handprint heart to celebrate diversity.
Teacher-turned-stay-at-home mom Emily Lawson of Sandbox Academy came up with this great craft as a way to remind kids that diversity is beautiful. Using construction paper (or plain paper and crayons) in colors that represent various skin tones, trace your child’s hand several times and cut them out. Cut a large piece of butcher paper or poster board into the shape of a heart and glue the hands over the heart until it’s filled with tiny hands in various shades. Leave it up in your home where everyone can see it.
Craft a shekere.
A shekere (pronounced “shack-EAR”) is a traditional African percussion instrument. It’s normally made by hollowing out a dried gourd, and wrapping it with beads attached to netting. In musical performances, it can be shaken or tapped on a musician’s hands.
Your child can make their own version of a shekere, starting with an empty plastic bottle without a lid. String a lot of colorful beads, then wrap the beads around the bottle (tying or taping the string as needed, but not too tightly so they’ll still rattle when shaken). Play your shekere, following the lead of explainers or performances you can find online.
Make a traffic light craft or snack inspired by Black inventor Garrett Morgan.
This activity is inspired by one of America’s most successful Black investors, and it’s great for crafty (or hungry) kids. Watch this short, kid-friendly video primer about Garrett Morgan for free on the Wise Channel, a YouTube channel dedicated to celebrating African Americans who do amazing things. Then use construction paper (or crayons and markers) to have them make a traffic light. You can also make a traffic light snack by spreading Nutella on a graham cracker then topping it with red, yellow, and green M&Ms for the lights.
Talk about how traffic lights have helped society (keeping drivers safe, making travel more efficient, etc). Then look up other awesome innovations from Black inventors that make our lives better—like Alexander Miles who invented automatically closing elevator doors, and Mark Dean who co-created color computer monitors.
Get jazzed about jazz.
Jazz developed in the late 20th century in the Southern U.S., where diverse African American musical traditions mixed with influences from other cultural traditions, with strong flavors of ragtime and blues. Playing jazz music requires a lot of skill—in part because musicians usually play solos that they improvise, or make up on the spot!
LIsten to some jazz music together by artists like Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, and Miles Davis. Then invite your kids to do some artistic improvisation of their own—using paper and whatever art supplies they like, challenge them to interpret the emotions and swoops, swings, and “call and response” patterns they hear while they listen to the music.
Have kids record their own dreams for America.
Inspired by Virginia teacher Sarah Plumitallo, who writes a blog for educators and parents, this activity is a clever way to teach kids about Dr. Martin Luther King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech. After listening to the speech, have your child record their hopes for their lives and for our country. They can write their ideas down, or record them using the voice recorder on a smartphone or computer. Collect their hopes and listen or read each one together.
Next, listen to Dr. King’s speech again and see what similarities and differences exist between the speeches. Talk about ways that people of different backgrounds can work together to make all the dreams of both true. You’d be surprised by what even younger children come up with, so don’t hesitate to do this activity with early elementary school students. Even if you have to break up the speech into segments because their attention span is limited, it’s an activity you can go back to again and again to hear more of his famous words.
Need a bonus activity? Whenever you’re able, shop and order from Black-owned businesses. If you’ve never made it a point to research where you shop, this is a perfect time, especially if you have middle or high schoolers who are already familiar with good ol’ Google. From local bakeries to online shops on Etsy, make it a point to shop from Black entrepreneurs, such as these three young brothers who started a candle company. Take the time to research the shop owners together, whether it’s by introducing yourself to local vendors or by looking online. Get to know their history, especially if it’s somehow connected to the products or services they sell, and talk to your kids about why their business is a great addition to the area or category. It’s a great way to learn more about a community and support it at the same time!
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