Thoughts on Black History Month
It Doesn't Have to Just Be in February...
National Black History Month is one of many important milestones in embracing diversity in the world. Today's school children are very much made aware of the history of slavery, oppression, and inequality that Blacks have endured. Even younger children of preschool age and toddlers have the added advantage of being accepting of all nationalities. The younger children are when exposed to various cultures, the more comfortable they will be with all people for the rest of their lives. Make it a point to visit public places with your child and make it a point to encourage him or her to play with other children who are different in color.
The best ways to introduce very young children to Black History itself involves stories, foods, music, and crafts. Children need that hands-on experience to form lasting impressions. If you are lucky enough to have your child in a daycare or preschool, the teachers there already incorporate lessons and activities for Black History Month and further cultural awareness. But it shouldn't stop there, because learning should also come from home.
Stories - What kid doesn't like a good book? Read African folktales, poetry, or even a historical book on the life of a notable Black's childhood or significance in adulthood. Some great books to try include: The ABCs of Black History: A Children's Guide by Craig Thompson; I See the Rhythm by Toyomi Igus and Michele Wood; Let's Talk About Race by Julius Lester; Nelson Mandela's Favorite African Folktales by Nelson Mandela, Charlize Theron, Benjamin Bratt, and LeVar Burton.
Foods - A great way to talk about culture is by living it and identifying with it in everyday life. That is why food associated with different holidays works so well! Part of cultural immersion includes teaching about the history of a group of people and their native land, and sharing food can make it more real to children. African cuisine varies by region, but most people agree that dishes like Groundnut Stew, Cassava Cake, Spicy Okra and Turnip Greens, or Sweet Potato Salad are good representations of the culture. As Blacks migrated to other countries around the world, the cuisines mingled with local ingredients to create new variations on traditional recipes in addition to the sub-cultural food categories Soul, Creole (both US), and Afro-Caribbean. Having children learn about the food can be a tasty experience!
Music - Who doesn't appreciate some type of music? Children thrive on it. African instruments look just as unique as they sound. Although recordings of African music are available as CDs and videos, having a hands-on experience with the instruments themselves can be fun as well as entertaining for everyone. Check out local museums for information on exhibits pertaining to African music, or visit your local library for possible African music/Black History events they might have.
Crafts - Activities you can do together can be another way of promoting cultural awareness. Not only can you create works of art pertaining to historical milestones for Blacks (such as with a Martin Luther King Jr. freedom bell), but you can make crafts much like children in Africa would - like with sand art drawings, wall masks, puppets, and shakers.
Whatever way you find most helpful in introducing your child to Black History and in celebrating Black History Month, do it with respect for all the men and women who just like other races have fought discrimination and injustice in order to have a voice. Let that voice ring true, so that your child can best appreciate and understand what it means for the cultures of today as they continue blending into more new ethnicities that shape our world.