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Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. The first Juneteenth was celebrated back in 1866. Yet despite its long history, it only just recently became a federal holiday in 2021 — when President Biden signed the bill making it the first holiday to obtain legal observance since Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 1983. The holiday has deep roots in the South and has been celebrated for generations by many, but on the same token, many non-Black Americans had never heard of Juneteenth until it was observed as a federal holiday. And before the federal holiday, before national recognition, and before it became popular in retail, it was a day of remembrance for many. A day that celebrates freedom.
As a Black mother, it is extremely important to me for my kids to have accurate depictions of history beyond what is taught in schools. My oldest child is only 7, and therefore I have to think outside of the box for age appropriate ways to teach them about pretty much anything. They already learn the public school’s version of history, but teaching goes beyond the classroom. Here are some age appropriate ways I teach my early elementary-aged children about Juneteenth. Whether you do just one of these with your kids or pair several of the activities together, they’re a great way to respectfully observe the holiday … and you can probably learn something new yourself!
We live in the age of technology and kids consume a little bit of everything on the internet. YouTube has tons of educational content surrounding a wide variety, and I’ve found some pretty good resources for Juneteenth as well.
- PBS Kids’ Juneteenth video explains about the significance of the holiday in an age appropriate format. And clocking in at just under a minute and a half, it’s perfect for those little attention spans.
- “What is Juneteenth and Why Do We Celebrate?” by BrainPOP is a fun and informative animated video. With an almost 8 minute run time it’s a little longer, but it held my 7-year-old’s interest. It’s definitely a conversation starter, so pause, take breaks, and talk it through.
Books centering around Juneteenth (and Black History in general) are another easy way to teach the history and commemorate the day. Some great titles for young readers include:
- Juneteenth: It’s a Celebration by Chastity Collins
- My First Heroes: Black History
by the Editors of Silver Dolphin Books
- The Juneteenth Story: Celebrating the End of Slavery in the United States by Alliah L. Agostini
- Opal Lee and What It Means to Be Free: The True Story of the Grandmother of Juneteenth by Alice Faye Duncan
- Juneteenth for Mazie by Floyd Cooper
- Juneteenth Jamboree by Carole Boston Weatherford
For most young kids, the most effective way to learn is by doing. Pairing one of these activities with a book or video will help drive the lessons learned home.
- Make a freedom flag. Goose Goose Duck has a free printable to help create a freedom flag for the holiday. You can either do it this way, or craft your own with construction paper, crayons, etc. While you do this activity, discuss what freedom means, and then put on your own freedom parade at home!
- Make a Juneteenth meal. Red foods are chosen as a symbol of the resilience and ingenuity of enslaved people. Have a red-themed feast is a great way to honor the holiday. Red juice, red velvet cake, and red fruit are just a few ideas.
- Check out Juneteenth events in your city. With the holiday now being recognized federally, many cities and local children’s museums host activities perfect for families. Check locally to see what is being done in your area (or Googling “Juneteenth activities near me” can yield some great results too!).
- Take a virtual lesson. Outschool is an excellent platform that hosts tons of Juneteenth lessons kids can take virtually. They have Juneteenth content for kids ranging from ages 3 to 17, so there’s really something for every age group!
Educating our children about slavery and other topics are important, not only to understand the history of the United States, but teaching cultural understanding. Hopefully the provided resources are a starting point for starting conversations and possibly developing new traditions with your family.
Celebrate Juneteenth by reading these beautiful books with your kids.