Black History Month begins February 1. This is why it's important for kids to know what it's all about, plus tips from educators on celebrating as a family, from fun activities to volunteer opportunities.

By Christine Michel Carter
January 21, 2021
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Credit: Getty Images (8). Art: Jillian Sellers.

Black History Month is a time when communities across the country commemorate the history of people of African descent in America and pay tribute the many achievements of Black men and women. But perhaps the most important community members to get involved in this annual celebration? Our children.

Today's need for greater racial equity and inclusion requires kids to be exposed to diversity at a young age. To uplift all voices that have had an impact on our country, it is critical that Black history is studied and celebrated not just in February, but throughout the entire year. African American history is American history, and when kids understand the fuller picture of history, it will also help them understand the fuller picture of today. That said, Black History Month is a perfect time to bring young children into the conversation.

We were lucky enough speak with two educators from the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of African American History and Culture, Anna Forgerson Hindley, director of early childhood education and Candra Flanagan, director of teaching and learning, to get their tips on teaching children about Black History Month. Here are the facts to get your started, plus their creative ways to celebrate as a family.

When Is Black History Month 2021?

Black History Month is traditionally observed during the month of February. The theme of Black History Month 2021 is The Black Family: Representation, Identity, and Diversity.

Why Is Black History Celebrated in February?

In 1926, historian Carter G. Woodson, founder of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, established Negro History Week to promote the accomplishment and achievements of Black people. He chose the week of February that corresponds with the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. Negro History Week has expanded to become an observation and celebration throughout the month of February.

Understanding the Black History Month Colors

Interestingly enough, there are no official colors for the annual observation of Black History Month. Often people or organizations will use the colors of the Pan-African (or Afro-American) flag during the month though. The colors of this flag are red, black, and green.

The colors' significance were articulated by the Universal Negro Improvement Association in the 1920's and have been recently updated by the organization. The color red symbolizes the blood that unites all people of Black African ancestry and shed for liberation; the color black symbolizes Black people, whose existence as a nation, though not a nation-state, is affirmed by the existence of the flag; and the color green symbolizes the abundant natural wealth of Africa.

Black History Month Activities to Do with Kids

Get Creative with an Art Project

Make a Handprint Heart Sandbox Academy encourages an activity that honors the beauty of different skin colors and diversity. Using construction paper in various skin tones trace your child's hand multiple times and cut it out. Cut a large heart out of butcher paper. Glue the hands in the shape of a heart using the butcher paper as a guide. As a final step, make a wreath with your child's handprints to celebrate diversity.

Experiment with Eggs Heather Aulisio, M.ED, education consultant at Mom Loves Best believes an easy and effective way to talk about Black History Month for those who are early elementary or younger is an egg activity. Children view two eggs—one white and one brown. When cracked open, they see the egg is the same on the inside, regardless of the egg's color on the outside. This is a wonderful way to lead to learning about people with different skin colors and backgrounds.

Create a Collage Children of all ages love to create collages. Using magazines, the internet, books, or newspapers, allow children to cut out, position, and paste images of African American influencers on a piece of poster paper. After viewing clips and reading stories about each figure, children can also look for other items of significance and arrange and glue them near each person.

Cook a Special Dinner Together

Author Sandye Zdanwic and teacher Sarah Miller recommend researching and cooking traditional cuisines from predominantly Black countries. Families may enjoy cooking a traditional meal together and exploring a variety of traditional African dishes from Hatti, Jamaica, South Africa, Nigeria, and traditional Southern America.

Look at maps and discuss where different spices come from and certain specialty dishes. Parents and kids can work together to choose recipes, shop for ingredients, and even prepare the food. Discussing the histories of these dishes also offer great dinner conversations with your children and is a great way to teach kids important life skills about cooking.

Volunteer or Donate as a Family

Have a bookworm under you roof? Leap for Literacy is a non-profit youth development organization where kids can earn books in exchange for acts of kindness while developing their reading and writing skills so that they grow up to be kind, well-read, accomplished adults. In honor of Black History Month, Leap for Literacy will hold a program featuring all Black authors.

If donating time is not an option, consider donating funds to national organizations—like Black Lives Matter, Equal Justice Initiative, or Center for Policing Equity—or local organizations in your area dedicated to addressing inequality. Evite Donations makes it really easy to create a virtual fundraiser.

Read a Book That Celebrates Black History

There are many children's books that celebrate Black history in ways kids of all ages can understand. Here are a few of our favorites:

Watch a Series Together

Put screen time to good use this February by carving out one night a week watch an episode or two from one of these series for kids that explore Black culture:

More Educational Resources for Teaching Kids Black History

As we continue hybrid and virtual learning, there's no better time to incorporate more of the lessons that matter most into your child's day. Luckily, there are many great online resources for parents and teachers alike, from downloadable worksheets to interactive activities, focused on Black history. Here are a few of our favorite places to find them:

  • National Museum of African American History and Culture, Smithsonian Institution: Talking About Race, Early Childhood Education, and Teaching and Learning
  • Utilize educator resources from Teaching for Change, an organization that encourages teachers, parents and students to question and re-think the world inside and outside their classrooms, build a more equitable, multicultural society, and become active global citizens.
  • Because of Them We Can, a campaign created by Eunique Jones as a way to share Black history and the culture's promising future through images. It also refutes stereotypes and builds self-esteem, confidence and inclusion in children.

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