Black History: 8 Fun Ways to Cultivate Greater Appreciation

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Encourage your kids to have a greater appreciation of black history and the contributions famous and everyday African Americans made to the development of a rich black culture and the pursuit of knowledge in various disciplines from art to medicine. Make connections with all five senses, absorb some new facts and get moving while you learn together.

History and Creativity Connections

1. Read and reflect on biographies: Check and see if your public or school library has biographies or picture books about a single famous African American from history. Then think and talk about how he or she is portrayed differently in books published at different points in time or in books for readers of different ages. Can you uncover any nuances in the portraits the books’ authors convey? Dig into the past and read up on the poet Langston Hughes, civil rights leader Rosa Parks, author Zora Neale Hurston, educator Mary McLeod Bethune, baseball player Jackie Robinson or another well-known African American who sparks your curiosity.

Mary McLeod Bethune with a line of girls from her school

Mary McLeod Bethune with a line of girls from her school: Daytona Beach, Florida, ca. 1905 (Source: State Library and Archives of Florida on Flickr)

2. Make a graphic timeline: Zoom in and take a closer look at an aspect of the anti-slavery abolition movement (like the role of free blacks) or the civil rights movement (like desegregation or voting rights) through the lens of drawings, photography or video. Create a timeline poster or a digital interactive timeline to tell a story and highlight what you see as the pivotal or watershed moments for the movement.

 

 

Red Rose Cantata painting

Alma Thomas’s Red Rose Cantata, 1973

3. Color, paint and create: For young children, get out the crayons and print a copy of the National Archives’ Emancipation Proclamation commemorative coloring book (PDF) with history about President Lincoln signing the proclamation, portraits and short biographies of several African Americans. For beginner and more advanced student artists, explore the work of famous and visionary African American artists by visiting a museum or an online gallery like this National Gallery of Art gallery tour of African American artists. Create your own works of art inspired by the works you discovered.

STEM Connections

4. Investigate the contributions of African American scientists:  Learn about some famous and less well-known African American scientists and inventors who made amazing contributions to various areas of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) study. This article about African American inventors (from National Geographic) could be a good starting point.

5. Grow some seedlings: The agriculturalist George Washington Carver researched numerous uses of various crops, including the peanut. For a hands-on activity try planting some peanuts from the shell in a pot of soil, and see if you can produce seedlings (with this USDA growing peanuts student science project).

Get Moving

6. Groove to the rhythms of African American music traditions: Dance to different genres of music – jazz, blues, soul, funk, go-go, R&B, hip hop and rap music – on a free streaming radio website or on the Library of Congress National Jukebox (create your own playlist of blues recordings). Try putting together a playlist that spans decades and includes favorites from different generations of your family – popular songs in these genres from the parents’ or grandparents’ teenaged years.

7. Follow in the footsteps of history: Hike or bike a trail that was part of the Underground Railroad or visit an Underground Railroad historic site (see the National Park Service Network to Freedom to see locations). Discuss with your kids what they think it must have been like to hike these trails at night. What characteristics, like bravery and grit, did the trail leaders (also known as “conductors”) and the freedom seekers need to have?

Healthy Eating Connections

8. Celebrate African and African American culinary traditions: Prepare a delicious, healthy dish or meal inspired by African or African American culinary heritage. Try this warming and healthy confetti soup recipe created by three middle school students from South Carolina for the Recipes for Healthy Kids Challenge. Get a week’s worth of healthy meal ideas from Let’s Move! with Chef Marvin Woods.

 

Enrich your kids’ and your own understanding and appreciation of black history and culture with some of our ideas. For more fun activities check out AfricanAmericanHistoryMonth.gov for resources from the Library of Congress, the National Archives, the National Park Service and more.

Black history // civil rights // Jackie Robinson // Mary McLeod Bethune // Rosa Parks // underground railroad // February 28, 2014