by Liz Pemberton, Director of The Black Nursery Manager Training and Consultancy
Black History Month in the UK has been recognised since 1987 and was established by Akyaaba Addai-Sebo. Akyaaba was a special projects officer at the Greater London Council and then later at the London Strategic Policy. He recognised the need for Black people throughout the UK to have a month dedicated to celebrating and more importantly acknowledging the contributions of many Black Britons to the rich cultural tapestry of the UK.
Moving gradually away from a sole focus on largely African-American figures, most notably Martin Luther-King Jr or Rosa Parks, it has remained an important factor that the month of October in the UK was one that recognised the contributions of individuals such as Betty Campbell, Wales’ first Black Headteacher, or Olive Morris who fought for Black women’s rights in Britain during the late 60s and 70s.
Now, in 2022, it is equally important to remind our youngest children of the contribution of Black people to the societies that they are a part of throughout the UK especially as we aim to work towards more meaningful anti-racist practice. The need to provide children with a balanced perspective of their history in what can quite often be a very biased and unbalanced view of the history of the UK means that we should strive to reverse the sense of erasure of the contributions of Black people from our educational consciousness and there is no better place to start this work than in the early years.
Black History Month as tokenistic
It has been argued that to save all of the celebrations of Black people for one month in the year as a way of notably recognising their achievements is the height of tokenism and I would not completely disagree. As a Black woman and former nursery manager whose demographic of children and families attending my nursery were predominantly Black, the need to recognise October as a month of explicit celebration of Black people was admittedly not something that we did every year as we prided ourselves as a setting that actively “celebrated” the beauty of the many nuances of the multitude of Black cultures 365 days a year. It became embedded within our pedagogy. But I also recognise that this is not going to be the case for early years settings across the UK and so I would suggest that the need to introduce children, particularly in all-white settings, to important figures within Black Britain during Black History Month can be equally as valuable. I think that if executed meaningfully this can be a brilliant way to extend learning opportunities for all children.
Some key UK figures from history and the present to recognise for Black History Month in 2022
- Phyllis Akua Opoku-Gyimah
- Claudia Jones
- Amy Ashwood-Garvey
- Mary Seacole
- Dr Yvonne Thompson
- Trisha Cooke
- Rageh Omaar
- Laura Henry-Allain MBE
- Dina Asher-Smith
- Lenny Henry CBE
- Roy Hackett MBE
- Ramla Ali
- Diane Abbott
- Bukayo Saka
- Trevor McDonald OBE
- Marsha de Cordova
- Hanan Ibrahim
- Beryl Gilroy
- Nadine White
- Warsan Shire
- David Olusoga OBE
- Edward Enninful
- Marcus Rashford MBE
- Dapo Adeola
- Dame Floella Benjamin DBE
- Casey Bailey
Meaningful Black History Month celebrations for Pre-Schoolers (3-4 years old)
Meaningful must also mean relevant for the children that we are engaging with, and the context of history must not mean that we should forget about bringing this up to the present day. With this in mind here are some ideas:
- Talk to the children about the brilliance of the current Black children’s television presenters for example Nigel Clarke, Emma-Louise Amanshia, Gyasi Sheppy, Joanna Adeyinka-Burford. Have pictures of them displayed in your room and help children to make connections by asking questions such as “Have you seen *insert presenters name* on TV when you watch Cbeebies ?”, “What do you love about *insert presenters name* ?”. It is very likely that the children will be familiar with these people already and may also be able to draw on the similarities and differences between themselves and these individuals including the kinds of clothes that they wear, their hairstyles, the colour of their skin, whether they look like members of their family etc.
- Incorporate the showing of different episodes of Laura Henry-Allain’s hit children’s TV show and first children’s animation to centre a Black family, Cbeebies JoJo and Gran-Gran. They are also set to have a Black History Month special this year too which is perfect!
- Plan your month carefully and intentionally around the children’s interests and link these into Black History Month. You could think about everyday experiences for the children such as eating lunch/snack times. The power of food should not be underestimated, and this will give you a chance to research a range of African and Caribbean heritage food that the children may be able to try. Perhaps offer plantain crisps as an alternative at snack time or vary the fruits selection so that the children are eating mangoes, pineapple or soursop. Look at purchasing the Original Flava Cookbook by Shaun and Craig McAnuff for the person who makes your nursery meals so that they can attempt something new, get a copy of Rochelle Watson-Senyah’s children’s book The A to Z of African and Caribbean Foods, or the Wholefood Fruit Puzzle, created by the company Little Omo, for your nursery.
- If there are Black people in your local community who lead in culturally specific activities that you could invite into the setting then this is ideal, although there are some things to consider here:
- Do not invite people in and expect them to deliver their services for free – have a budget.
- Plan way in advance! As a guide, if you are reading this article and it is already October plan for your invited guests to come in next year. You want to be respectful of people’s time and expertise in whatever they do.
- Make sure that you are thinking about the many ways in which Blackness is represented so be sure to acknowledge the intersections of Black LGBTQ members of the community, Black disabled members and Black Muslim or Jewish members of the community. You are aiming for a diverse representation for your children to see and interact with.
What not to do for BHM
- Generally speaking, unless parents or carers offer, I would steer away from the expectation for Black parents to take the lead in your Black History Month activities at the nursery. This is a chance for you to really use your own initiative and invite all of the parents to be a part of this so that it is still a wholly inclusive month. Remember, celebrating one culture is not a rejection of anybody else’s.
- Do not single out the Black children and ask them things like “what do you do for Black history Month?”. This is not helpful and doesn’t approach the celebrations with sensitivity or respect.
- Do not “dress the children up” nor dress yourself up as “Black people.” Be conscious of stereotyping. That means steer away from brown body paint or pretending to be a rapper. Don’t ask the Black children to come dressed in their “cultural clothes” to act as a spectacle for the other children. If you want to do an activity that centres cultural dress then you can do this by having clothes displayed on mannequins or fabrics on display for children to look at and touch.
The key for this time of the month is enjoyment for all. Don’t let the fear of getting it wrong stop you from doing anything at all. Our society is made up of a variety of different people from various cultural and ethnic backgrounds and the UK is a place which has greatly benefitted from the contributions of Black people from the past and present. There is nothing wrong with showcasing these wonderful things during Black History Month at your early years setting!