February is Black History Month! Officially observed from February 1 to March 1 in the United States since 1976 (and unofficially celebrated for many years before), Black History Month is a time to recognize and celebrate Black achievements and contributions throughout history. The month “honors all Black people from all periods of U.S. history, from the enslaved people first brought over from Africa in the early 17th century to African Americans living in the United States today” (National Geographic Kids, “Black History Month”).
Children of all ages notice physical differences like skin color. A study from the University of Toronto suggests that children as young as 6 months show preference for same-race faces and bias towards those of different races. Fortunately, children are never too young to learn about the beauty of human difference. Just like the ABC’s and 123’s, social behaviors like empathy and noticing and celebrating differences need to be taught in the early childhood classroom. We can support this learning through anti-bias curriculum, which includes representing diversity through literature, music, materials, and activities and inviting conversations about difference.
For infants and toddlers, this can mean offering board books that center diverse characters, representing diversity through dolls, toys, and other classroom materials, and playing music from a wide variety of musicians. As children move into preschool, you can add picture book readings and explorations, and invite questions and thoughtful discussions. Literature is also a great way to introduce new subjects and ideas that inspire different activities, from science to literacy to art! When offering art supplies, check that they represent many different skin and eye colors, as well hair color and texture (especially if using fabric or yarn). For a deeper look at anti-bias curriculum practices, see this article from NAEYC.
Here is a collection of playlists, book suggestions, activity ideas, and other resources to help you celebrate Black history in your early childhood classroom this February, and all year long!
- There are many Black creators making amazing music and video content for young children. Here’s a list featuring several Black artists. Listen to stories with Nanny Nikki, sing songs with Uncle Devin, and learn new words in Spanish with Ms. Niki’s Music Class. Many of these artists have made their songs and videos available on YouTube and Spotify.
- Putumayo is known for its collections of world music. Putumayo Kids features kid-friendly music from many different cultures. Celebrate Black heritage with music from Africa, the Carribean, and the United States!
- Jazz at Lincoln Center, directed by famous trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, has compiled a playlist of Jazz for Kids. This playlist features jazzy renditions of Sesame Street songs, classic kid favorites, and classic tunes performed by jazz icons such as Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, and Charlie Parker.
- Ibram X. Kendi, author of How to Be an Antiracist, offers a board-book for little ones: Antiracist Baby. Bright, bold illustrations by Ashley Lukashevsky accompany Antiracist Baby’s quest to make the world a more just place for all. (Ages 0 - 2)
- Cedella Marley, reggae artist and daughter of Bob Marley, has written two board books for children inspired by her father’s music: One Love and Every Little Thing. These songs of hope, joy, and community pair beautifully with the pictures by author-illustrator Vanessa Brantley Newton. Invite children to listen to the original songs after reading the books. (Ages 0 - 2)
- Here Wee Read has created a wonderful list of board books featuring Black babies and families. (Ages 0 - 2)
- Introduce little ones to important changemakers in history with My First: Little People, Big Dreams, preschool-friendly versions of titles from the Little People, Big Dreams series. These books tell the stories of inspirational figures like Harriet Tubman, Maya Angelou, Rosa Parks, Wilma Rudolph, and Josephine Baker. (Ages 2 - 4)
- The ABC’s of Black History by Rio Cortez and Lauren Semmer is a great introduction to the people, places, and terms of Black history. (Ages 3 - 5)
- Many books are more suited to older children, but Here Wee Read has compiled a list of Black History Month books perfect for preschool! (Ages 3 - 5)
- Romper’s list of 31 Children’s Books Featuring Black Characters includes fiction and non-fiction stories for your classroom. (Ages 3 - 5)
- Artist and author Faith Ringgold uses folk-art and quilting styles to illustrate her children’s stories. Ringgold has written many books for kids, including three books for very young children: Counting to Tar Beach, Cassie’s Colorful Day, and Cassie’s Word Quilt. As a companion activity, make a story quilt together using squares of fabric or paper. Find this activity and four others inspired by Black artists at We Are Teachers.
- Learn about George Washington Carver, a pioneer in agricultural science. Carver is known for his work with peanuts, soybeans, and sweet potatoes. Young botanists can grow their own sweet potato slips with this fun experiment!
- Space enthusiasts will enjoy learning about Mae Jemison and Neil Degrasse Tyson. Check out Mae Among the Stars by Roda Ahmed and talk with children about what might be needed for a trip to space. This could be a great imaginary play prompt as well! The book Look Up With Me by Jennifer Berne, with an introduction by Degrasse Tyson himself, offers an introduction to the astrophysicit’s life and fun facts for budding astronomers. Invite children to share what they know about space and make your own meteor paintings!
- Paint portraits inspired by contemporary artists Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald. Wiley, who painted the portrait of President Barack Obama, and Sherald, who painted the portrait of First Lady Michelle Obama, both have beautiful and distinct styles. Invite students to explore their paintings. What do they notice about them? What colors and shapes are used? Children can use art materials of all colors and shades to create self-portraits or portraits of important figures in Black history. (The book Parker Looks Up by Parker and Jessica Curry is perfect companion reading!)
- Learning about Black history means learning about the ongoing fight for freedom and justice against the forces of racism and oppression. This article from NAEYC shares helpful books, activity ideas, and topic questions for having these conversations with young children.
- Explore the National Museum of African American History. The Smithsonian museum in Washington D.C. has online access to the collection. The website even features a section dedicated to Early Childhood Education!
- EmbraceRace, The Conscious Kid, and Learning For Justice have book lists, articles, guides, webinars, and more to support your school community’s antibias education goals. You can also find them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
- If you are noticing a lack of diversity in your classroom toys and materials, check out these lists from Colours of Us featuring dolls, puppets, puzzles, and more!
We hope this inspires some ideas about how to bring Black history into your classroom through the month of February and beyond. You can return to these resources to help you create an inclusive curriculum for every month of the year.
Once you’ve developed your lesson plan, you can put it into the learning platform in the brightwheel app to keep it available at a glance and share it with your families to keep the learning going at home!
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