Black History Month in the Elementary School Classroom

As a future teacher, I am constantly thinking about things that I can use or implement in my classroom, and Black History Month is no exception. It can be hard to find time to focus on certain things during school due to the crazy curricula and standardized testing in today’s world of education, but Black History Month is not something that can be skipped over in place of math or science. Instead, it should be integrated into the curriculum at the least, if there isn’t enough time to focus directly on it. Here are some engaging and interactive ways to teach about Black History Month in an elementary classroom!

1. Integrate the Arts

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Aaron Douglas, From Slavery Through Reconstruction, 1934

There are tons of African American artists that aren’t well-known and should be. If you aren’t already integrating diverse artists into your classroom, this is a perfect opportunity to start! Alma Thomas was a black, female painter in a white, male-dominated society, and Aaron Douglas made colorful, cultural artwork during the Harlem Renaissance. Teach your students about their lives and their artworks, and you can create projects based on their styles and inspirations. You can also take the time to teach about Maya Angelou’s poetry or any other artists from African American history. This can include music too - whether you prefer to incorporate soul music into your classroom or cultural hip-hop, anything can be educational and inspirational!

2. Do a Living Museum

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Start by having students research African American people in history, and have each pick someone that they find interesting. Over the course of the month, have each of them do more in-depth research on that person, creating some kind of presentation for them. It can be a poster, a table with artifacts, or something else they want to make. On museum day, each student dresses up as their person and gets to teach their classmates all about them. It’s educational, interactive, and fun!

3. Teach about the Black Lives Matter Movement

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Social Studies does not have to be centered on history and geography! It can be so much more, including current events. The Black Lives Matter movement is still a current event and is still happening, and is therefore extremely relevant in your students’ lives. Take some time in your social studies unit to learn about the leaders of the movement, why the movement is happening, and the outcomes that the world is hoping for through the movement.

4. I Have a Dream

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A major figure that is learned about during Black History Month is Martin Luther King, Jr., but unfortunately, many schools spend 20 minutes talking about why he was an important figure before moving on to something else. Take the time to teach students (or have them research him and teach themselves) about his life and why he did what he did, rather than just what he did. A nice way to conclude this unit could be to study his “I Have a Dream” speech and have students write their own versions of it based on today’s society.

5. Don't Shy Away from Controversy

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There are some topics that we’re all slightly nervous or uncomfortable speaking about in the classroom, especially with young students. Racism and discrimination can be hard to talk about with children, but it’s something that needs to be taught. Kids understand more complex things than we think they do, and they also notice more than we think. It’s very likely that they’ve seen or experienced racism already in their lives, and if we skip over topics like these, it simply teaches them that it may not be such an important topic, and that’s the opposite of what we want to teach. If a student asks you a serious question about racism, sexism, or anything else, don’t shy away. Tell them the truth, and explain why it’s such a problem that it exists.

Black History Month is so important, and it should be getting more attention in schools than a 20-minute lesson on MLK or watching a video about slavery. It should include slavery and Civil Rights, culture and arts, current day and 200 years in the past. Our students deserve to know more about it than they are currently learning, so it’s important for teachers to do the best they can to make sure students are getting the education they deserve.

HCXO, Lola

*All images courtesy of Google Images