UK Black History Month Ideas and Activities for Primary Schools
UK Black History Month is October. It is the 32nd Black History Month in the United Kingdom – the first being celebrated in 1987.
It's not always easy to prepare effective, engaging learning for special days and events. To help, here are some Black History Month ideas and activities for schools and teachers.
What is Black History Month and why is it celebrated?
Black History Month in the UK celebrates the history, arts and culture of black British people. Awareness of, and education about, the history of white British people is well-established, but black British history is underreported and underrepresented. Dedicating a month to it every year helps redress that balance, and helps us all learn more about our shared History as Britons.
How is UK Black History Month celebrated?
Throughout October there are typically many newspaper and magazine articles as well as TV programmes about Black British history. Black History Month Magazine is central to the celebrations. They select a focus for the celebrations each year.
The focus for UK Black History Month 2019 is on the contributions to society—and achievements of—black British women since Windrush.
There are a number of events such as talks, discussions and debates held around the country.
Black History Month in schools
In schools, children are taught about the history of black British people. Typically, the achievements of inspiring black British role models such as athletes, authors, poets, actors and musicians are celebrated, too.
As teachers, it's essential to ensure that children know what Black History Month actually is and why it is celebrated. Explaining this to children might seem straightforward, but there's actually a lot for young learners to unpack and understand.
A differentiated, age-appropriate approach to teaching the meaning of Black History Month is necessary to ensure all primary children can learn something – and celebrate Black British history, too.
Black History Month KS1 Ideas and Activities
A simple, straightforward approach to teaching about Black History Month is best for younger children in Years 1 and 2. A quick discussion about why it's good to see a range of people with different skin tones and appearances in books, TV programmes and films will get children thinking about why visibility of minority ethnic groups, including Black British people, is important.
Talk about why Black History Month is celebrated
Try to draw out these key points during class discussion:
- Everyone is different in our own communities, so it's nice to see that difference in the books we read and the things we watch!
- It's also nice to see people who look like ourselves in books, films and television.
- Because many books, films and TV programmes are created by white people, black, asian and mixed-race people are often shown less.
- Minority ethnic groups, including Black British people, are also represented less often because they are in a minority: there are less black, asian and mixed-race people living in Britain than white people.
- Black History Month is important, because it is a time when we learn about Black British people, who are not represented as much as white people in books, films and television.
Experience Black British arts and culture
Although some aspects of British history (particularly those beyond living memory) are difficult to teach young children, focusing on arts and culture is a great way to help children learn about more recent events – post-war history, particularly.
Try these Black History Month activities with your KS1 class:
Listen to reggae, 2 Tone, ska!
Bob Marley, Jimmy Cliff, The Specials, The Skatalites or Toots and the Maytals are good starting points. Describe what you can hear and how it makes you feel. Dance and sing! Show pictures and share information about influential Caribbean and Black British artists, and British bands that were influenced by Caribbean sounds.
Alternatively, listen to—and learn about—some more modern, reggae-influenced r&b by artists such as Soul II Soul, Sade or Estelle.
The Specials performing at Brixton Academy, London, May 2009 as part of their 30th anniversary tour
Read books about black history, and books by black writers
Take some time to read books to your class. Reading to your class is a fantastic shared experience, and a great way to share black history with young children in an accessible way.
Make sure you have some good-quality, age-appropriate books in your book corner, too. There are a number of children's book lists of varying quality out there, but I particularly like this excellent Black History Month Booklist by the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education (CLPE). It includes Unheard Voices – short stories and poems from modern authors – collected by former Children's Laureate, Malorie Blackman.
Malorie Blackman OBE
Black History Month Lower KS2 Ideas and Activities
In Years 3 and 4 (lower Key Stage 2), children are ready to learn about Black British history in greater depth.
Black History Heroes
Focusing on black history heroes is a great way to celebrate the contributions of Black Britons to society, art and culture.
Looking at inspiring role models is also great a great way to teach lower KS2 children about the discrimination that historically significant black figures experienced, and how they overcame this adversity.
Learn about the lives and achievements of famous Black Britons
Show pictures of black Britons, famous for their contributions to society, sport, art and culture. It might be interesting to include some figures from more than 60 years ago, as well as black Britons in living memory. You might include:
- Malorie Blackman (author)
- Mary Seacole (historic figure)
- Diane Abbott (politician)
- Tessa Sanderson (athlete)
- Naomie Harris (actor)
- Heather Small (musician)
Tessa Sanderson CBE
(We've included a list of women here, but 100 Great Black Britons has a great list of women and men you can draw inspiration from!)
Black History Month Upper KS2 Ideas and Activities
Children in Years 5 and 6 (upper Key Stage 2) are more experienced historians, and as such, ready to be challenged with some deeper learning about Black British history!
Learning about how communities of black Caribbeans arose in areas of Britain after the end of the Second World War—and Windrush—is a great way to teach children about how modern Britain has been shaped by black culture.
Caribbean Culture and the Notting Hill Carnival
We've got a great lesson all about the Windrush Generation (part of a larger post-war British history unit of work, Rebuilding Britain). It's a perfect way to look at how various aspects of black, Caribbean culture have influenced British society as a whole, so I'd highly recommend it!
Whether you use our resources or not, focusing on Windrush, and the growth of Caribbean communities in parts of London such as Notting Hill and Brixton is a great way to teach children about how black Caribbean culture has influenced—and become a part of—British culture as a whole.
Key concepts and questions to touch upon in your lessons
Why Caribbeans concentrated in specific areas of London. Many were poor and rent was cheap in areas such as Notting Hill and Brixton. As is human nature, Caribbeans wanted to belong to a community, so chose to live close to one another.
How black Caribbeans were treated by white British people when they arrived. You could start with a brief explanation of the Notting Hill Riots, then ask your pupils to consider why they might have happened.
Why the Notting Hill Carnival began. As a response to the riots – an opportunity to celebrate peace, unity, and Caribbean culture with the whole community.
Aspects of black Caribbean culture that came with the new arrivals. Look at the food, music, poetry and fashion of black Caribbean communities in the United Kingdom.
It might be interesting for children to consider the things that black Caribbeans both wanted and needed when they came to Britain. For example, British cuisine used different ingredients than Caribbean cuisine. Being able to buy and eat Caribbean food would have made the new arrivals feel more at home!
When black Caribbeans began to arrive in Britain there were very few hairdressers specialising in black hair, as fewer black people lived in Britain before the war. Black barbers and hairdressers sprang up in the London boroughs where Caribbean communities were growing, as did shops selling makeup for black women. Caribbeans opened grocers, clothes shops and record stores selling the things that Caribbeans wanted and were familiar with. Non-Caribbeans bought things there too, contributing to the influence of black Caribbean culture on wider British society.
Why do you think that Black British history is less well-known than the history of white Britons? Discuss as a class.
Why do you think events like Black History Month and the Notting Hill Carnival are important? Guide discussion about why we study history, and why knowing about the history and culture of all Britons—not just white Britons—is important for helping us understand the world around us.
A participant in the Notting Hill Carnival
More resources for Black History Month from PlanBee
Here's our collection of teaching resources for Black History Month.
More resources for Black History Month on Twitter
The Official UK guide to the events and people who make every October worth celebrating each year.
Britain's leading black newspaper bringing you news, sport and entertainment with an African and Caribbean perspective.
Lambeth's inspirational, fun & thought provoking programme of events to celebrate Black History.
Bristol Black Journey promote information, resource and content that enable people to learn about the contributions made by the African, Carribean and Asian communities.
Follow Black Cultural Archives' journey, the UK's first national Black heritage centre.
Beyond slavery, colonisation & immigration, @michael1952 & @MirandaKaufmann on #history of Africans in Britain and how it is presented to students & the public.