Whether your child can recite from memory the names and philosophies of Black leaders like W.E.B. DuBois and Angela Davis or they need an introduction or refresher on pivotal Black figures, February is a good time for children to learn more about Black history.
Of course, learning about Black history and culture, along with racial justice, should always be a priority. Still, there’s no federal mandate for teaching Black history and it can sometimes be overlooked, according to Insider. (Although some states‘ curricula are changing).
You can bolster your children’s learning with digital resources. The ones below represent a variety of tools from national museums and educational nonprofits. They educate and engage children in Black history and culture through interactive events, entertaining videos, and content that profile Black visionaries and leaders. Whether you’re a parent or a teacher, head on over to these websites to spark children’s curiosity or continue their education.
1. Common Sense Media
Common Sense, a nonprofit which helps parents and teachers choose appropriate kids’ media and technology, has its own Celebrate Black Voices page for educational media and activities for all ages. The website acts as a guide for finding content online, which means it includes both free and paid resources. Common Sense says its goal this month is to “highlight the diverse culture, achievements, and experiences of Black people and the powerful voices that have shaped history.”
Common Sense points families to its “Black History on the Screen” lists, which compile Common Sense-approved media highlighting famous Black icons or cultural moments. The media covers a variety of subjects, including STEM, Arts, Business & Culture, Dance, Games & Sports, and Activism, Civics & Social Justice. Families can also look through Common Sense’s list of Black TV classics. There are accompanying videos with each list, which include age ranges for each of the included films.
Common Sense also suggests parents look at its book lists on Black history, which include ones for preschoolers and little kids, “big kids” and tweens, and teens. The books span fiction and nonfiction, and include classic readings alongside contemporary novels.
Finally, the organization has published its own teaching resources for families and educators, including a guide to reflecting on Black history as a family, free learning activities for Black History Month, and educational, kid-friendly videos and podcasts about Black history.
2. The National Museum of African American History and Culture
The only national museum dedicated exclusively to the documentation of “African-American life, history, and culture,” points parents of young children to its Joyful Fridays series, held virtually every Friday throughout February at 11 am ET.
For Black History Month 2022, the Joyful Friday series will include a lesson on the work of poet Maya Angelou, the influential inventor Granville T. Woods, and abstract artists Alma Thomas and McArthur Binion. As part of the program, children ages 4 and up are invited to participate in arts and crafts activities related to each Black leader. While it’s free to attend these events, you’ll need to register. You’ll receive details, like a list of required supplies needed to participate, the Monday before.
In honor of this year’s theme, Black health and wellness, visitors can also visit the museum’s searchable online exhibit about Black communities and public health, including explanations of the Tuskegee Experiment and Henrietta Lacks.
The museum also suggests parents and educators take advantage of the museum’s Talking about Race online portal to help children understand key topics like how to be anti-racist and why the idea of race is such a dominant force in our world.
3. New York Public Library
The New York Public Library encourages parents and their children to check out its Black History Month Storytimes, which can be found within the library’s wider Black History Month offerings and online events. In them, child librarians “read beloved books, sing songs, and share early literacy tips.”
You can access all story videos here. Notable videos include a storytime with Anne-Marie Braithwaite, a NYPL librarian, reading Hair Love, a story about a Black dad who learns to style his daughter’s hair that was also an Academy-award winning animated short. The storytimes vary in age range, from infants all the way to 12-year-old’s.
PBS has a slew of online resources, categorized by age, to teach kids about Black History and anti-racism. For example, parents of kids aged two to five can use PBS’ drawing activity to help their children understand the power of advocacy and reflect on the times they stood up for someone. They can also think about and write down the characteristics of great heroes with a printable work page. Afterward, take a look at PBS’ Questions to Ask Your Child to engage your kid in a discussion about Black heroes. You can ask them questions like “What Black role models helped to make the world a better place?”
Children six through eight can watch animated videos about Black people whose accomplishments secured them a place in the history books. For example, check out scientist and inventor George Washington Carver, who invented more than 300 products from peanuts, and writer Zora Neale Hurston, whose work explored Black people’s stories in the South. After watching the videos, explore PBS’ supplemental activities, like a colorfully illustrated pdf you can download that inspires children to share their own stories like Hurston did.
As part of PBS’ anti-racism resources, educators can use PBS’ “Creating a Caring Classroom Community” hub to learn how to nurture a caring classroom, teach students to celebrate diversity, and talk about why racism hurts. You can kick off a class with this video from the show Arthur that teaches kids about racism.
5. Smithsonian Institute Learning Lab
As well as partnering with the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the Smithsonian Institute hosts its interactive Learning Lab, an online resource for students, teachers, parents, and the casually curious. The website includes Learning Lab collections — digital versions of museum exhibits created by professionals. Search through them all here.
Parents and children can use the Smithsonian Learning Lab’s online lesson discussing Black History Month through the histories of important Black figures and Black art, featuring works from the National Portrait Gallery. The guided presentation takes children through the basics of art, famous portraits with accompanying biographies, and includes questions and activities at the end. The activity is suitable for all ages.
Other collections include lessons and photo galleries created using items and exhibits from the museum’s archives, like Music and Sound, featuring famous Black musicians, and Hair Love, a collection of images showcasing Black hairstyles and history.
6. Scholastic Magazines+
Scholastic Magazines+, which offers both paid and free teaching resources in association with Scholastic books, published a free, nonfiction story collection for young readers to learn more about Black history and culture. The stories are suitable for grades 1-12.
The nonfiction resources are “dedicated to brave men, women and children who have made a big impact on the world,” according to the website, and share the stories of Black leaders like ballerina Misty Copeland and pilot Bessie Coleman.
Each history lesson is paired with teaching resources like narrated videos for young children, close-reading questions, and vocabulary lessons. Along with the stories, Scholastic also has an accompanying video series interviewing young Black entrepreneurs who have founded nonprofits, clothing companies, and even a coding academy.
7. National Education Association
The National Education Association, a network of educators and professionals working in public education, has its own Black History Month hub full of free, online activities created by members and other organizations, like Scholastic books, PBS, and Learning for Justice. Activities include history lessons, quizzes, and printable exercises like crosswords, as well as lesson plans for educators.
The activities are easily divided by grade level, from Kindergarten to 12th grade. Each grade level is provided with various lessons across an array of subjects, including science, art, and even sports. It’s a great, curated list to start looking for more ways to engage your children.
8. The New York Times Learning Network
The New York Times Learning Network is a teaching resource for educators (as well as students or interested parents) that incorporates current news and history. The website includes lesson plans, activities, and articles curated for educators using New York Times content.
The publication has a two-part series on Black History Month, called Black History, Continued, in which the paper dives deep into understudied moments and highlights of Black history and culture. The second part of the series includes a lesson plan that expands on the history contained in the Continued series, providing discussion questions and opportunities to “reflect on the importance of celebrating overlooked or under-appreciated aspects of the American experience,” according to the Learning Network.
The website also has activities for teens and older students, like the student opinion activity How Much Have You Learned About Black History? The article and accompanying questions ask young people to reflect on how Black history is taught in their own schools, what topics they’d like to cover that are currently left out, and how current curriculum should change.
Whichever digital resource you use to teach your kids or students to learn and celebrate Black history and culture, in February and throughout the year, it can help lay the foundation for a more knowledgeable and antiracist future.
UPDATE: Feb. 8, 2022, 7:00 p.m. EST This story was originally published in Feb. 2021 and was updated with new information and to include more resources in Feb. 2022.