Since 1926, February has been a time to center the Black community. We celebrate Black contributions, commit to taking action against racism, and reflect on Black history and Black futures. Below are 3 ways to observe Black History Month with your family.
1. Listen to Black music
Choose some Black musical artists, and enjoy their work as a family. Many well-known Black artists have child-friendly songs, such as Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Miriam Makeba, Bob Marley, Ziggy Marley, The Jackson 5, Bobby McFerrin, Janelle Monáe, Seu Jorge, Brother Yusef, SaulPaul, Rissi Palmer, Divinity Roxx, Gasper Nali, Pharrell—and so many more!
You can rock along with child-focused Black artists too, like Ella Jenkins, Jazzy Ash, Culture Queen, Nanny Nikki, Fyutch, Uncle Jumbo, Pierce Freelon, Snooknuk, Kymberly Stewart, Ms. Niki, and The Magic Jones.
Children’s television also has some great musical gems, like Questlove’s ‘Rise Up, Sing Out,’ or the many Black musical guests who’ve appeared on shows like Sesame Street.
As you listen, engage other senses, too. Your child may enjoy looking at the artists’ photos and watching videos of their performances. While many families are mindful of screen time, race is rooted in visual perception, so watching videos featuring Black people can have a powerful impact. And of course, when enjoying music, it’s natural to sing and dance along!
2. Play with Black dolls
Dolls are powerful tools for building connection and empathy. A baby will gaze into a doll’s eyes, hug it, care for it, invent rich narratives around it, and bring the doll with them into all kinds of environments.
It’s valuable for children of all races to own a Black doll. Black children’s self-esteem benefits from seeing themselves reflected in their toys, and for non-Black children, having a Black doll can help compensate for the relative lack of Black characters centered in the shows and books they encounter.
It’s even more powerful to give a child several different Black dolls; this allows the child to create narratives that include more than just one Black character, and it visually reinforces to children that Black people are all unique individuals.
If your child is in school or daycare, consider the diversity of the dolls in their classroom. If there aren’t any Black dolls, ask the teacher if some can be included.
3. Read books about Black characters by Black writers
Reading books by Black authors and Black collaborators means benefitting from the richness of lived experience—with less likelihood of stereotypes.
Notice who’s centered. When a storybook’s cover features a Black character positioned in the center of the image, it’s a great clue that the character has high importance in the story.
Where to buy
When purchasing books, consider supporting a Black-owned bookstore. To help you select books, the very useful YouTube channel Sankofa Read Aloud showcases many Black children’s books, so you can find stories your little one will love.
Tips for choosing books for ages 0 to 2
For babies and toddlers, focus on stories about relatable Black characters having positive experiences.
Since very young children live in the now, avoid books about historical stories like the civil rights movement, segregation, and enslavement. These important topics are better suited to older children, starting around ages 6 to 10 (and always being mindful and age-appropriate when discussing violence).
Babies love to look at faces, so choose books with lots of images of Black people’s faces for your child to gaze at. Black children benefit from seeing themselves reflected in this way, and non-Black children will become better playmates to Black children when they’re exposed to positive stories about Black characters’ experiences.
Tips for choosing books for ages 3 to 5
Show your preschooler lots of happy Black characters, and when reading any story, draw their attention to the idea of fairness. At this age, children are still too young to talk about historical racism, but they’re very interested in fairness. Families can talk about what’s fair and unfair, and encourage children to consider different perspectives.
Decode body language
When reading, discuss the facial expressions and desires of various characters. You might say:
- “Look at these two children. How do they feel?”
- “Was it fair that this child took the toy?”
- “How could they solve their problem?”
- They could say, “Please play fairly!”
Use conversations about characters’ perspectives to introduce concepts of injustice and advocacy in situations that are relatable to your child’s life. Brainstorm conversations and actions that the characters could use to resolve situations with fairness and respect.
Exploring stories through this social-emotional lens teaches children to be sensitive to injustice, and gives them the tools to speak up—which is a strong foundation for them to later learn more advanced concepts, like racism, anti-racism, advocacy, and allyship.
Great book guidelines for all ages
Center dark skin
Make sure your child sees people with a wide range of Black skin tones—especially dark skin and Afro-textured hair, since these are features that the media often marginalizes.
Stay modern and happy
Books about historical figures are useful for older children. Unfortunately, they often flatten the person’s inner life, or frame their entire life story through the lens of trauma.
Blackness has so much complexity—don’t reduce it to a single story of racism and struggle. Delve into Black peace, Black joy, and Black excellence!
Give your child plenty of books about modern-day Black characters with rich emotions and happy lives. We’ve created a list of our favorites.
Include many positive stories
Aim to flood your child with hundreds of positive, happy stories about Black people. Look for stories about relatable pastimes, such as playing with family or enjoying nature. And choose books that are engaging—exciting stories, funny dialogue, and vibrant images.
Our young children are making sense of the world by creating generalizations about everything they see. When we focus on Black peace, Black joy and Black excellence, we help them create generalizations that are positive!
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