February is Black History Month — the perfect time to teach your child more about the achievements of famous and lesser-known Black Americans and about the historic struggle for civil rights. If you’re not sure how to celebrate Black History Month with your little one, here are tips and resources to help you get started.
Why do we celebrate Black History Month?
The origins of Black History Month trace back to 1915. In September of that year, historian Carter G. Woodson and the prominent minister Jesse E. Moorland founded an organization dedicated to researching and promoting achievements by Black Americans and other peoples of African descent. The group sponsored a national Negro History week in 1926. They choose the second week of February to coincide with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. Schools and communities nationwide organized celebrations, performances, and lectures.
Eventually, mayors of cities across the country began issuing annual proclamations recognizing Negro History Week. By the late 1960s, Negro History Week had evolved into Black History Month on many college campuses. Finally, in 1976 President Gerald Ford officially recognized Black History Month as a time to “honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans.”
February is a good time to teach your child that Black history is American history and therefore should be celebrated by all families, regardless of race.
While stories about slavery and the civil rights movement of the 1960s may seem too big for little ears, some educators say these stories can help teach your child perseverance, courage, and peaceful problem-solving and can nurture a lifelong love of learning.
Also, check out Babypalooza’s Tips for Talking to Your Child About Race.
Books to Teach Your Child About Black History
Storytime is a great time to learn more about Black history.
You can teach your child about the legendary Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., with books like Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Written by Doreen Rappaport, this picture book biography of Dr. King uses quotes from some of King’s most beloved speeches to tell the story of his life and his work in a way that’s easy for young children to understand. The book features Bryan Collier’s stunning collage art that combines remarkable watercolor paintings with vibrant patterns and textures.
Check out The Story of Ruby Bridges, written by Robert Coles and illustrated by George Ford. Set in 1960, this picture book for young readers follows six-year-old Ruby Bridges as she makes history in the fight to end segregation in schools. When a judge orders Ruby to attend first grade at an all-white school, Ruby must face angry mobs of parents who refuse to send their children to school with her. Ruby’s courage is sure to inspire you and your child.
Maybe you want to teach your child about Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson – the three brilliant Black women who were the brains behind NASA’s launch astronaut John Glenn into orbit.
Here are three other black history books to consider:
Computer Decoder: Dorothy Vaughan, Computer Scientist by Andi Diehn and Katie Mazeika
Human Computer: Mary Jackson, Engineer by Andi Diehn and Katie Mazeika
Black History Resources from Sesame Street
If you’re struggling with tackling tough topics about racial discrimination, you can always head to Sesame Street for backup.
During the CNN Sesame Street town hall, hosted in the wake of protests that erupted after George Floyd was killed by police in May of 2020, Elmo discusses racism and what it means to protest with his dad, Louie.
In this video from Sesame Studios, Marvie is celebrating Black History Month by learning about different African American inventors. And she’s inspired to invent something new too!
If you want to teach your child about Black history all year long, Sesame Street has a playlist on YouTube of more than 60 videos you can use.
Fun Ways to Celebrate Black History Month
The key to getting your child excited about Black History Month is to make learning Black history fun.
Cristi Jones-Smith and her daughter Lola made headlines a few years ago when Lola, who was five years old at the time, dressed as notable Black women for Black history month and Cristi shared photos of Lola’s looks on social media.
Take your child to a local museum or find virtual museum tours online.
You could incorporate music in your commemoration of Black history, too. Lead your child in singing “This Little Light of Mine.” Then, teach him the significance of the song in the civil rights movement.
And don’t forget that while you should, of course, teach your child about civil rights leaders like Dr. King and Rosa Parks and abolitionists like Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, and Sojourner Truth, be sure to include contemporary trailblazers, too. Celebrate the accomplishments of political leaders like President Barack Obama and Vice President Kamala Harris or artists like ballerina Misty Copeland. These contemporary stories will show your little one that one day she can make history, too!