First and foremost, if you’ve made it this far – I appreciate you. It takes courage to seek out new perspectives. It is sometimes a jab at our pride to admit, I don’t know it all, and it could benefit me and my children if I learned some more.
Second, teaching Black history isn’t a one size fits all. Having conversations with your children and your peers is going to be a unique experience. The important part is that you take the step.
I put up a poll on my Instagram stories, asking whether or not parents had spoken to their children about black history. It was a 60-40 split. 60% of those who were polled said no, 40% said yes. Out of the 60% of those who answered no, the following reasons were cited: child/children too young and/or they were unsure how they could integrate black history into learning.
I thought it would be interesting to dive into both of those choices.
My child is too young to understand Black History Month.
The simple response to this is, they might be. But it’s also highly likely that they also understand, make inferences and associations without being able to verbalize those thoughts and ideas to you. Studies have shown that children as young as 6 months of age recognize race.
Some of y’all might hit the X after I say this but, if you are not an ally, your kids won’t be either. Children are sponges. They pick up on tone and prejudice. Racism is a learned behavior. Separate them from sources of racism and prejudice. Honestly, this may be the hardest step. If you need to pull family or friends to the side and create a boundary, do that. This is an ongoing process. I stop people in the middle of a conversation more times than I would like to admit.
Awhile ago, I put a poll in my Instagram stories asking if anyone had ever experienced racism. Diving in further, I asked, if you have experienced racism, how old were you the very first time it happened? Quite a few people told me they were 5. 5 years old. Imagine sending your child off to school for the very first time and needing to make sure they were ready to experience a racist encounter? Like, backpack-check, lunch box-check, pencil box-check, emotional shield of armor-not quite ready yet. Getting to say that your child is too young to learn about racism and prejudice is a privilege that a lot of people aren’t afforded.
Are we teaching the entire concept to our toddlers and preschoolers? No. But I can tell you how I started and what has worked for me!
I am not sure where to begin.
From a young age it was important to me that Cassidy could see herself in characters and illustrations. I’ve curated a really diverse book collection for Cassidy. We read two books a night, it’s been that way since she was two years old. Start with the basics. Fill your bookshelf with books about empathy, kindness and diversity. Focusing on those key building blocks will help them become good friends to those around them as well as develop a strong moral compass.
Illustration is important as well. Let them see people who don’t look like them. This gives you the opportunity to talk about unique characteristics. For example, Cassidy will often reference that my eyes are blue and hers and daddy’s are brown. Mommy has white skin and Cassidy is tan. Or my favorite (insert eye roll here), mommy’s hair is brown on top and like Elsa’s on the bottom.
Don’t feel like you have to spend a ton on books, you can check out your local library, buy used or get hand-me-down books. I’ve done all three. Check out all of these awesome books I found at my local library for Black History Month. Amazon is a great place to find used books for a steal, check out my Amazon shop here.
You might start with board books and music, graduate to picture book readings and make your way toward open ended questions following a show or story time. Gauge your child’s understanding with open ended questions. Sometimes they need help talking it out but I can promise you, you will be surprised.
This year I have been focusing on short biographies on historical Black Americans and explaining it to Cassidy in a more simplified version. Last week I read to her about Ruby Bridges and the questions she asked me were great. She was able to identify similarities and differences to her experience at school. It was a proud mom moment.
Books are the main way we have taught Cassidy up until this point. Being intentional about the content your children consume on a daily basis can be an integral part of their emotional growth.
Do you feel ready to implement new things?
I am hoping that at this point you feel empowered to try new things and talk to your children about kindness, empathy, differences and/or Black History. The truth is, Black History is American History and it should be included. One of my favorite history teachers made this statement and I have never forgotten it – History is written by the winners, not by those who have been defeated and exploited. Think about your own education. I can tell you that two years of World History was required in my high school curriculum, and the only way I got to learn about African American History in the U.S. was by taking it as an elective.
If you have specific questions that you would like me to answer, feel free to DM me on Instagram.