Mary McLeod Bethune with a line of girls from her school: Daytona Beach, Florida, ca. 1905

African-American History: 10 Fun Ways to Cultivate Greater Appreciation

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From the arts to the sciences, African-Americans have played a prominent role in contributing to America’s rich culture and development in the modern world. Encourage your kids to gain a greater appreciation of black history with information from the Library of Congress, National Park Service, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and others, by helping them make connections through all five senses.



  1. Reflect on biographies: Check and see if your public or school library has biographies or picture books about a single famous African-American from history. Then think and talk about how he or she is portrayed differently in books published at different points in time or in books for readers of different ages. Can you uncover any nuances in the portraits the books’ authors convey? Dig into the past and read up on civil rights leader Rosa Parks, author Zora Neale Hurston, educator Mary McLeod Bethune, and baseball player Jackie Robinson or another well-known African-American who sparks your curiosity.


  1. Make a graphic timeline: Help your kids take a closer look at significant moments in black history with a graphic timeline. First, if your kids are unfamiliar with timelines, learn more by looking at an example, like that of the biography of artist Henry Ossawa Tanner. Work with your kids to create handmade (e.g., posters, collages, models) or digital (videos, blogs, online journals) timelines of periods, such as the abolitionist movement or the civil rights movement.

    Or zoom in and take a closer look at an aspect of the anti-slavery and abolition movements (like the role of free blacks) or the civil rights movement (like desegregation or voting rights) through the lens of drawings, photography, or video. Create a timeline poster or a digital interactive timeline to tell a story and highlight what you see as the pivotal or watershed moments for the movement.


  1. Read more about historical figures: Go on a trip with your kids to your local public library to find a variety of novels, biographies, or picture books of famous African-American historical figures. See if your kids would like to focus on one person, gaining an in-depth understanding of how this person contributed to black history as well as the obstacles he or she had to overcome along the way. Some figures you could consider looking into include poet Langston Hughes, civil rights activist Julian Bond, author Harriet Beecher Stowe, statesman Frederick Douglass, and astronaut Ronald E. McNair. Or try learning more about some figures who may not be as well known, such as path-breaker father and son FBI special agents Jesse and Robert Strider.


  1. Investigate the contributions of African-American scientists: Learn about some famous and less well-known African-American scientists and inventors who made amazing contributions to various areas of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) study. This article about African-American inventors could be a good starting point.

  2. Grow some seedlings: The agriculturalist George Washington Carver researched numerous uses of various crops, including the peanut. For a hands-on activity try planting some peanuts from the shell in a pot of soil, and see if you can produce seedlings (with this USDA growing peanuts student science project).

Arts Connections

  1. Color, paint and create: For younger children, get out the coloring utensils and print a copy of the National Archives’ Emancipation Proclamation commemorative coloring book with history about President Lincoln signing the proclamation, portraits, and short biographies of several African-Americans. Consider spending a day with your family exploring the works of visionary African-American artists by visiting a museum or online gallery, like the National Gallery of Art’s tour of African-American artists. Create your own works of art inspired by the works you discovered.

Get Moving

  1. Groove to the rhythms of African-American music traditions: Dance to different genres of music— jazz, blues, soul, funk, go-go, R&B, hip hop, and rap music—on a free streaming radio website or on the Library of Congress National Jukebox (create your own playlist of blues recordings). Try putting together a playlist that spans decades and includes favorites from different generations of your family— popular songs in these genres from the parents’ or grandparents’ teenaged years.

  2. Go hiking through history: As an introduction to the Underground Railroad, try the National Park Services’s Junior Ranger activity book Discovering the Underground Railroad. Then with your kids check out if you are located close enough to hike or bike a trail through sections of the Underground Railroad or visit an Underground Railroad historic site (see the National Park Service Network to Freedom to see locations). Have a conversation with your kids about the significance of the Underground Railroad and what they think it must have been like to use these trails during that time period. Why were so many African-Americans willing to take the long journey across these trails? Why is it important to preserve historical sites, such as the Underground Railroad?

Healthy Eating

  1. Celebrate African and African-American culinary traditions: Prepare a delicious, healthy dish or meal inspired by African or African-American culinary heritage. Try this warming and healthy confetti soup recipe created by three middle school students from South Carolina for the Recipes for Healthy Kids Challenge. Get a week’s worth of healthy meal ideas from Let’s Move! with Chef Marvin Woods.

  2. Explore cultural cuisine: Learn about African-American culture through exploring its rich culinary cuisine. Try preparing a meal with African or African-American-inspired dishes, such as the colorful Amazing African Sweet Potato Stew, that was one of the 2014 Kids State Dinner Winners of the Healthy Lunchtime Challenge. Kids interested in sports may enjoy learning about the importance of healthy eating with football players who have stopped by the Let’s Move! kitchen.

Enrich your kids’ and your own understanding and appreciation of black history and culture with some of our ideas. For more fun activities check out for resources from the Library of Congress, the National Archives, the National Park Service, and more.

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Last Modified: 12/01/2015