Black History Month in the Early Years

In October each year, Black History month is acknowledged and celebrated, to recognise the contributions that people of African and Caribbean backgrounds have made to the nation over many generations. It may be seen as an opportunity for people across the country to explore and discover black history and heritage, celebrate black culture and learn about the history of black culture whilst embracing and looking forward to the future. There is no doubt that Black History Month is an important time to raise awareness, celebrate diversity, bring communities together and explore cultures, however, is it important to celebrate this in the early years?




Black History Month may be seen as a golden opportunity to approach the themes of African-Caribbean history, achievement and experience with young children. It is certainly a time for celebration and may provoke early years practitioners into thinking about diversity and how they approach cultural awareness within their environment. However, celebrating diversity should be something that is done every day as a matter of course, we shouldn’t be waiting for a special month to do this.


That’s not to say that we shouldn’t celebrate Black History month within our settings, we absolutely should, but the way we do this should be developmentally appropriate, exciting, engaging and in line with the interests of the children, building on their cultural capital and extending their learning, not paying lip service to a celebratory month for the sake of it.


Digging out a dusty copy of Handa’s Surprise and displaying images of iconic black leaders just isn’t doing this month the justice it deserves and does nothing to educate our youngest children. Offering exciting opportunities to engage in appropriate first-hand experiences can help children make connections between different lives, cultures and experiences and offer insights into children’s lives whilst sparking discussion around similarities and difference.


Within our environment, we should see diversity every day of the year, from the role play area with costumes from around the world, culturally diverse dolls, resources and equipment, to the books, jigsaws and images around our setting. This should not be kept for one month of the year, but should be embedded within our practice every single day.





However, that’s not to say that throughout the month we shouldn’t introduce children to new concepts, ideas, resources and activities that perhaps they’ve not experienced before in order to build on their cultural capital and extend their learning.


One setting we work with has introduced African dance into their morning shake up and wake up activities. The nursery manager stated ‘We include a movement session every morning to get the children active and ready to learn. We often play music from different cultures or with different themes but decided for Black History Month we would focus on African and Caribbean music. This has been brilliant; the children are enjoying it so far and we hope it will spark interest in other ways. For example, one practitioner questioned how we move to this music and an African child in the group demonstrated to her peers some traditional dance moves. It was amazing to watch her teach her peers and them to soak up this new learning, trying out the dance moves themselves. This prompted them to ask to watch more African dance on YouTube so we are exploring this next week, following their lead, who knows where this will take us next’.




We often see themed art and craft projects when celebration days or months are upon us, with children being asked to produce a piece of art with an adult end focus in mind. This does little in terms of learning and development for most children, except distract them from their own enjoyable playful work in which they were engaged before being asked to sit at the art table and paint an African clay pot, which has been printed and ready cut. However, there are so many ways you can add diversity into your art and craft area, with opportunities to talk about Black history whilst children are engaged.


Set up a portrait station with a range of craft materials, paints, chalks, crayon, glue, etc with lots of colour, including a range of skin tones, hair colours and eye colours. Add mirrors for the children to really look at themselves and discuss the similarities and differences between themselves and their peers. They can then, if they choose, use the craft materials provided to recreate their impression of themselves. Practitioners who take the time to sit back, observe and listen during this activity will no doubt find out so much about the thoughts of these little people during this time!


There is also a great opportunity to think about the food on your menus and how diverse it really is. Offering stew and dumpling over Black History Month is like offering sweet and sour on the menu for Chinese new year, its lip service. Use these celebrations to make real change in your setting and to incorporate a diverse menu that children can experience the whole year round. Of course, you might want to have a celebration meal or perhaps set up a beautiful interest table with African Caribbean interesting artefacts to talk about and engage with, and that is a real opportunity for children to learn about culture, but its what you do with this learning and how you build on it that is really important.

Black history month strives to educate us all on the epic challenges and struggles that people of African and Caribbean backgrounds have had to overcome — from slavery to the civil rights struggles that are still ongoing today. This is clearly far too huge a topic to cover with out under 5’s, but what we can do it teach them about acceptance, diversity, kindness, appreciation for each other and to love one another, without differentiating based on culture or background. We don’t need prescribed activities to do this. We should embed this in our activities, environments and practice every single day.


There is also a great opportunity to think about the food on your menus and how diverse it really is. Offering stew and dumpling over Black History Month is like offering sweet and sour on the menu for Chinese new year, its lip service. Use these celebrations to make real change in your setting and to incorporate a diverse menu that children can experience the whole year round. Of course, you might want to have a celebration meal or perhaps set up a beautiful interest table with African Caribbean interesting artefacts to talk about and engage with, and that is a real opportunity for children to learn about culture, but its what you do with this learning and how you build on it that is really important.


Black history month strives to educate us all on the epic challenges and struggles that people of African and Caribbean backgrounds have had to overcome — from slavery to the civil rights struggles that are still ongoing today. This is clearly far too huge a topic to cover with out under 5’s, but what we can do it teach them about acceptance, diversity, kindness, appreciation for each other and to love one another, without differentiating based on culture or background. We don’t need prescribed activities to do this. We should embed this in our activities, environments and practice every single day.

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