It’s never too early to expose your children to diversity, and Black History Month is a great opportunity to get the conversation started. Whether you have a baby, toddler or preschooler, there’s so many impactful ways to celebrate the achievements of Black Americans through books, activities and exploration–not just in February, but all year long.
Sharing diverse stories and experiences with your children matters, even at the youngest of ages. Research shows that children begin to recognize differences in skin tone well before most parents realize; by five months, babies are able to distinguish faces of all races, and by nine months, babies react more swiftly to their own race than others.
Exposing young learners to different races, through books, experiences and interactions, will help them to develop mindsets and values anchored in self-esteem, open-mindedness, empathy and fairness, explains Lynne Mueller, director of learning at Vivvi. “As children gain a better understanding of themselves and others, they can build a foundation of valuing the qualities of all people. This will support unbiased attitudes in the later years with confidence, openness and empathy.”
Not sure what’s age-appropriate for your little one? We’ve put together a guide of books and activities that you can use to celebrate Black History Month at every age.
Babies: 0-12 months
- Read: Jazz Baby by Lisa Wheeler. Infants and toddlers will love the rhythmic nature of this book while celebrating the African American musical tradition of jazz. While reading the book, use your body as an instrument. Tap, clap, snap and stomp while reading just like the characters in the story.
- Do: Set up an infant/toddler safe music station using everyday household objects like empty plastic jars filled with coins or beans (for shakers); pots and wooden spoons (for Drums); muffin tins; and whisks. Helping your children to discover diverse music early on is one way to teach them about different cultures.
- Explore: Visit a library or take a walk in a different neighborhood. Being intentional about exposing your child to all different types of people will help them grow to be more kind and compassionate towards people of all races, ethnicities and cultural groups.
Toddlers: 2-3 years
- Read: Mae Amongst the Stars by Roda Ahmed. Inspired by the life of Mae Jemison, the first Black woman to travel to space, this beautiful picture-book biography will encourage young readers to dream big and reach for the stars.
- Do: Invite children to engage in an astronaut dramatic play experience. Before starting to play, set the scene by creating a space wall. Put up glow-in-the-dark stars, and print out pictures of galaxies, planets and astronauts. Be sure to include pictures of astronauts of color as well as their names. Once the “stage has been set,” you and your little ones can use cardboard boxes to create a space helmet and rocketship, just like Mae.
- Explore: Find a child-friendly museum with an exhibit focused on Black history, art or culture. You’d be amazed at your child’s capacity to take it in, even at this young age.
Preschoolers: 4-5 years
- Read: We are Alike, We are all Different by Cheltenham Elementary Kindergartners and Laura Dwight. The kindergartners who wrote this book started off by comparing snowflakes, specifically how each one looked different. This was then used as a jumping off point to discuss the children’s uniqueness. Each page has illustrations by the children as well as photographs of young children.
- Do: Have a discussion with your child about all of the beautiful differences of people’s skin. Invite your child to paint children of all hues, using a template for the body so that the children can focus on adding details like skin color, hair, eyes, nose, clothes etc. Offer Colorations Skin Color Paint, as well as different colored yarn for hair, and scraps of fabric to create clothing.
- Explore: Volunteer with your child. Choose an activity that your child can participate in, like cleaning up a park or donating to a food bank, and talk about spreading kindness and empathy in the world. Fairness and sharing are concepts that any preschooler can begin to relate to!
At Vivvi, we love using books as a tool for early childhood education. Here’s a list of some of our favorites to celebrate Black History Month:
- Love You Head to Toe by Ashley Barron. This book is great for babies, and introduces diverse characters and skin tones to the very young.
- Dream Big Little One by Vashti Harrison. This beautiful picture book offers simple illustrations of African American Women who’ve made big achievements.
- The Skin You Live In by Michael J. Tyler. This celebration of skin tones has an important message about race, inclusion, and social acceptance.
- The Colors of Us by Karen Katz. A positive, affirming book about skin color, focused on a young artist that discovers brown comes in many shades.