6 Ways to Celebrate Black History Month with Your Kids
Black history is American history
Every February the United States and Canada recognize and celebrate the contributions of Black Americans during Black History Month. Your child’s teacher may or may not talk about Black History Month in school, but when we shed light on the importance of the month at home with our children, it makes it even more meaningful. If you’re looking for creative ways to explore Black history as a family, consider starting with engaging, educational activities that incorporate Black history, Black culture, and Black stories.
Here are six of my family’s favorite ways to infuse learning and celebration into Black History Month:
1. Take a trip to the library
One of our favorite places to take our 6-year-old daughter is our local library. To prepare for certain topics we know she’ll be studying, we pack some of our assignments, take a walk, and plan for at least an hour of quiet reading or coloring time. I used to try and reserve books ahead of time to make it a quick trip, but recently, we’ve discovered the joy in finding books together. We use the library database to search for topics, and the librarian helps us find what we need. My daughter loves doing a book search with the call number. It’s like her library game. This month we plan to search for poetry written by Black authors and host our own poetry reading!
Take a trip to your local library or bookstore, and use the database to look for age-appropriate books about African American history and accomplished historical figures who contributed to American culture. Turn it into a family book hunt, and search for books like Hidden Figures, Life Doesn’t Frighten Me, and Be a King to learn about inspiring people like Dorothy Vaughn, Maya Angelou, and Martin Luther King Jr. When your child sees you putting in the effort to do the research and create a shared experience, they’ll understand how important this month really is.
2. Teach them about Brown vs. Board of Education
We homeschool our daughter. This doesn’t mean we have endless amounts of time and space to run a homeschool program. It just means we work from home and haven’t put our daughter in a traditional school setting… yet! But our daughter loves hearing about what other kids do in school and how schools have changed over the years.
One way to make Black History Month more relatable for all kids is to study the history of education in the United States. Brown vs. Board of Education, the Supreme Court case that led to the desegregation of schools and the civil rights movement, is a good place to start. To help children understand the importance of equitable and fair education for all, watch a short animated movie about the case. They’ll learn about Thurgood Marshall, who served as lead counsel, and went on to become the first African American Supreme Court Justice in U.S. history. Then discuss the topic, and do a related activity as a family. You can start by talking about the struggles of school children at the time and how educational opportunity has improved since.
3. Watch an arts performance
We recently took our daughter to see Espresso Nutcracker performed by an all-Black dance company and set to the music of Duke Ellington’s Nutcracker Suite. She had never experienced anything like it before! It was a priceless experience to watch our little girl captivated by people who look like her on the main stage of such a famous ballet.
It’s one thing to read about dancers like Josephine Baker or listen to a Louis Armstrong jazz album. But it’s even more memorable to attend a live performance and celebrate African American art and culture. Search your community for Black dance companies, theaters, and ballets, or live music venues that showcase Black talent. All-Black orchestras that have played at Carnegie Hall and the Alvin Ailey dance company also perform at venues across the U.S. Check your local theaters and performance halls for details. If there’s not a performance nearby, consider watching one online. Or create a playlist with your favorite Black artists, and put on an impromptu dance performance while singing along in your living room!
4. Get to know one historical fact or figure a week
We could all use more time in our day. (Case in point: I’m writing this article after a full day of work while I’m waiting for the rice to cook, my daughter is finishing her cursive assignment, and I’m thinking about a sink full of dishes.) I am always on the lookout for creative ways to maximize the precious minutes with my daughter. BrainPOP Family is a great addition to kids’ after-school routine because it offers bite-size learning moments with real educational value—that also inspire dinner-table conversation. Short, animated movies engage kids through storytelling, alongside quizzes and other activities, so kids learn key concepts across the curriculum, including social studies. If you don’t have a BrainPOP subscription, you can start by exploring topics like Civil Rights, Fannie Lou Hamer, Martin Luther King Jr., Harlem Renaissance, Juneteenth, and then sign up for a free trial.
Here are some engaging ideas to develop a learning habit that sticks:
- Create a cozy space in your home to read a library book or watch a movie about a famous African American. As a family, talk about what you learned. For example, how can we model the inspiring deeds and contributions of historical figures in our own daily lives?
- Make a “Black History Month Spotlight” area on your fridge or elsewhere in your home to showcase any drawings, activities, reports, or projects your child completes about each person.
- Write names of important historical events and the people behind them on slips of paper, and put them in a bowl. At the dinner table, choose a slip at random when you’re ready to share and learn! Extra credit: Use the slips of paper to create a Black History bingo game with names of events, places, and people.
5. Explore Black-owned businesses
When my younger sister got married last year, she wanted to incorporate our culture into her big day while honoring the legacy of Black-owned businesses. She was very intentional about hiring Black professionals for everything from catering, to photography, to our hair and makeup.
One of the seven principles of Kwanzaa is “Ujamaa.” It focuses on cooperative economics—the importance of building and maintaining African stores, shops, and other businesses, and profiting from them together. In the early 20th century, African Americans in Tulsa, Oklahoma were doing just that through the economic prosperity of the business district known as Black Wall Street. Today, one way we celebrate Black Americans and their contributions is by exploring and supporting Black-owned businesses.
My daughter and I went on a search for ways we could do this, and we were pleasantly surprised to find that in 2020, Google introduced a Black-owned designation to its Shopping tab to help people easily find Black-owned businesses. We search for restaurants, stores, and we plan to visit a Black-owned vegan restaurant in our neighborhood soon. We have also donated to Black-founded non-profit organizations like Black Girl Hockey Club and EduSports.
6. Start new traditions
This is the first year that my family and I celebrated Kwanzaa. We spent the week after Christmas talking about the seven Kwanzaa principles and how we could apply them in our own lives. We wrote down our goals and reflections for the year and ways we could make our community a better place. It’s a new tradition in our home now.
You can celebrate Black History Month anywhere and anytime. As with all family activities, what matters most is making the moments special and creating shared memories. Start new traditions in your home that will help your children engage with Black history and share the stories they learn with others.
Celebrating Black History Month with our children gives us an opportunity to discover and acknowledge the sacrifices and contributions of the past, appreciate the achievements of the present, and envision a future of hope and positive change.
Sarah Mondestin is a homeschooling parent and UX Writer at BrainPOP. She was an elementary and high school educator and principal for 15 years.