While it’s important to honor and recognize the contributions of Black Americans every chance we can, each February during Black History Month offers an opportunity to do this on an even larger scale, honoring figures of the past and present. Discussing Black History Month, or any time dedicated to honoring a specific group of people, with young ones can be complex and bring up new questions. PBS KIDS and PBS Learning Media have a few resources to help adults share more.
One of my most fond memories as a child psychologist was when a 7-year old client drew a picture of us at the end of a session. Now anyone working with youth knows that you get drawings by the dozen, so it wasn’t just that it was another Picasso to be added to my wall. My young client started drawing the two of us – initially, she drew us both with straight hair. It was appropriate for the week, as my hair was indeed straightened, but that was not reflective of my natural and more frequently worn curls. So she looked up at me, scrunched her face, and then started erasing my hair. She added tight curls that sprung upward from my head and declared, “That’s better.”
Children see race from an early age.
During Black History Month, it is important to recognize that our children see race from a very early age and that we as parents, providers, and protectors can help to support their healthy racial development. Media makes for a great opportunity to connect our young ones with those who are familiar to them and those whose worlds may be new and worthy of supportive exploration with a trusted adult.
PBS KIDS for Parents, for example, has a great compilation of inspiring books featuring historical anecdotes and fictional tales about Black culture. Research points to the importance of windows and mirrors for children, that is, how they see themselves reflected and who they are in relation to others in varying environments. Books that center Black characters as the main focus of the text are critical and empowering for Black youth, as is the opportunity for other children of color and White youth to better understand and be exposed to the history, perspective, and lived experience of Black characters. Reading with youth and soliciting their questions, comments, and new ideas is a great way to encourage enriching racial dialogue early.
Videos Resources with Built-in Discussion Prompts
PBS also offers short videos with built-in discussion questions that can help prompt dialogue for or between young people. Focusing on specific leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. or on the development of Black History Month, PBS Learning Media provides opportunities for youth to learn about historical figures or developments along with necessary and critical comprehension questions that allow youth to apply it to their lived experiences and future actions. Although Black History Month is one month out of the year, the short video reminds us that the contributions of Black people throughout America’s history have contributed to our lifestyle today; helping children to better integrate that recognition can make for a more progressive approach to Black contemporary contributions rather than purely a retrospective account.
Coloring Activities for Black History Month
And, for all things interactive, PBS has an awesome opportunity for youth to explore historical figures through Xavier Riddle and the Secret Museum. Younger children can join Xavier and his friends while they travel back in time and find clues and facts about varying figures, including baseball player Jackie Robinson and author Zora Neale Hurston. Young people can also bring the series to life this February by coloring this print out of scientist, George Washington Carver, while adding him to their list of role models.
This coloring activity reminded me about the touching story from my clinical practice in which my client reflected deeply on the differences between our hair textures. As someone who advocates for youth being able to express their questions and curiosities about race, I was proud that she reflected such budding racial development that day. With our own children, we can encourage the same types of development by providing the blank coloring printout of George Washington Carver to choose which shade to color his face, or repeating the questions at the end of the PBS Learning Media videos, or offering a choice as to which book gets selected in the PBS KIDS for Parents list. It is only through shared and safe expressions of inquiry, knowledge, and exploration between youth and adults that our children can become the generation to take on racial disharmony as confident and informed change makers.
Riana Elyse Anderson is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Health Behavior and Health Education at the University of Michigan's School of Public Health. She earned her PhD in Clinical and Community Psychology at the University of Virginia and completed a Clinical and Community Psychology Doctoral Internship at Yale University's School of Medicine. She also completed a Postdoctoral Fellowship in Applied Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania supported by the Ford and Robert Wood Johnson Foundations.
She uses mixed methods in clinical interventions to study racial discrimination and socialization in Black families to reduce racial stress and trauma and improve psychological well-being and family functioning. She is particularly interested in how these factors predict familial functioning and subsequent child psychosocial well-being and health-related behaviors when enrolled in family-based interventions. Dr. Anderson is the developer and director of the EMBRace (Engaging, Managing, and Bonding through Race) intervention and loves to translate her work for a variety of audiences, particularly those whom she serves in the community, via blogs, video, and literary articles. Finally, Dr. Anderson was born in, raised for, and returned to Detroit and is becoming increasingly addicted to cake pops.