Updated: Jun 29, 2022
My family goes over the top for birthdays. My children write or draw their birthday lists. We talk about cake. We plan celebrations. Then there’s a whole countdown till the day...and finally, the day. On the special someone’s birthday we all try our best to treat the celebrant like the star they are!
Recently, I was explaining to one of my kids why I celebrate them on their birthday the way I do. I shared that I think they are important and worthy of honor in general. And how, though I work to make them feel special every single day, I treat their birthday as a time to be super-intentional about expressing my love and gratitude.
I detail all of this about our birthday rituals, because I see a lot of connections to Black History Month. And in the same way I don’t want a birthday to be an outlier for my children, in terms of them feeling loved and appreciated; we don’t want the celebration of Black lives, contributions, and legacies to be an outlier, in practice or mindset.
Key to making Black History Month last beyond the month is continually focusing on learning new things and celebrating Black people.
Here are tips for making Black History Month last. And since books are my love language, I’ve linked suggestions for books that may help you on your way- and some Black-owned book stores you can patronize!
Frame Black History. February can be presented as the celebratory kickoff to months of intentional learning and honor. For younger students you can make the connection to a birthday or anniversary. You might say, “Every year, just like we set aside time to celebrate you on your birthday, we take time to celebrate the contributions African-Americans have made to our country and to our lives.”
Spend time learning together- like 10 minutes or less. As you reflect on the lives and legacies of Black people, this and every month, take a few minutes to explore and learn together. Let one story or life lead you to another, and to another, and also to yourselves.
My girls love to sing. So a couple of weeks ago, we were flipping through Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History, and the picture of a woman in front of a microphone led my youngest daughter to ask me to read about the woman, Marian Anderson. After we read her biography in the book, we watched a video of her singing and I read an article about her. The article mentioned Jessye Norman, so we watched a video of one of her performances, actually two! I couldn’t have planned it better, because in the second video we listened to we heard Jessye Norman sing the same song Marian had sung. Now curious about contemporary Black Opera singers, we watched two videos of Pretty Yende performing.
There is something indescribably special about going down a rabbit hole of learning with your children. Starting from one of their interests, we went way outside of what we knew. We learned about opera, that operas tell stories through singing, usually in another language. We discussed a couple of similarities and differences between the singers, and ended our inquiry back with ourselves, pondering if we’d like to sing opera.
Make connections to other ideas and people.
Don’t just recall historical highlights and figures during Black History Month, but stretch out reading of texts and general curiosity about Black people, their lives and legacies, beyond this month. For example, we will revisit Jessye, Marian, and Pretty in March, as we celebrate Women’s History Month. And this time we can go deeper into how, as a Black opera singer, each woman is a pioneer. Pretty is from South Africa, so I’m sure we’ll do some learning about that country, allowing one discovery to lead organically into the next.
Be creative about how you can make connections! November is National American Indian Heritage Month. I could Connect Fry Bread to We had Us a Picnic this Sunday Past, thinking about how food reflects culture. Or compare and contrast different cultures’ creation stories by reading, In the Beginning: Creation Stories from Around the World to How Things Came to Be: Inuit Stories of Creation. Your local children’s librarian is a phone call or email away and can be a big help and guide you to books you could read and connections you could make.
If you want guidance about how to do this more formally, check out our post on creating text sets.
Just enjoy texts featuring Black characters.
I love picture books and poetry. Here are some texts we’ve enjoyed off the top of my head. These are books that I could quickly bring to mind, that make me smile and that have sparked some good conversations. Please leave comments and share what texts you are enjoying, especially including more recommendations for older readers!
If you’d like help figuring out how to support your learner our Co-Teachers would love to help.