Every year I try to add more Black History Month lessons into my PreK classroom. In all the diversity training and anti-racist seminars and books I have read one clear point is that when we teach lessons about Black History to young children, we need to focus on a strength-focused, joyful view of Black history and figures. This month’s point is to celebrate Black Americans’ joy and accomplishments. This doesn’t mean we don’t address racism or injustice, but it’s not the focus. To learn more about Anti-racist teaching resources, check out my list here. For more great Black History Lessons for young children, check out Danielle Slaughter’s work here.
Black History Month Preschool Lesson About Alma Thomas
Alma Thomas’s art caught my eye years ago on a visit to the Art Institute of Chicago. The bright colors and mosaic like appearance of The Starry Night made it stand out from the other contemporary art in the gallery. Back then I knew nothing about this artist other than her name, Alma Thomas. I was missing out because her life is one well worth knowing about and celebrating.
The Introduction. To introduce this Black History Month activity and the lesson I start with a simple question “Who was Alma Thomas?” My students don’t know who she is yet so they look at me quizzically, so I grab the books and show them the covers and let them guess with the book covers as hints.
Yes, she was an artist, a great one!
Now it’s time to read.
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I am delighted to share two different books about Almas Thomas and her legacy, perfect to read for a preschool lesson about Black History Month but even better to read all year long.
Alma’s Art by Roda Ahmed is a simple book that focuses on color and how Alma created so beautifully with it. This is a great book for toddlers and preschoolers. It is bright and inviting, and while it does dive a little into Alma’s life, it’s more about her love and brilliant use of color. It is an excellent fit for any activity about shapes and favorite colors. I have used this book for those concepts for a few years now. This reminds me to remind you ( and myself) that while these lessons are being shared and highlighted during Black History Month, these books should be shared year-round.
Ablaze with Color: A Story of Painter Alma Thomas by Jeanne Walker Harvey is a true picture book biography. This is a picture book all about Alma’s life and legacy. Told from the perspective of Alma herself, readers are taken through her life including some of the many injustices she faced and the trails she blazed. I like that this book shows so much about her life, as well as the different styles of painting she explored before the style we now associate with her.
Alma loved color. To more deeply connect my students to Alma Thomas it’s time to ask them about color. Specifically what their favorite color of the rainbow is. This simple little graphing activity does a bunch of things. It connects children to the person at the center of this lesson; Alma Thomas, it has a dash of name recognition, and of course it is an excellent example of a demonstration of gathering information and sorting it using a graph.
You can use a pocket chart like this one ( forgive the lighting, my classroom can get gloomy in the winter).
Or make one with paper and post its.
The Art Activity For Black History Month
Now it’s time to step into Alma’s shoes and paint like she did using bright colors and mosaic-like patterns. The main lesson I am trying to teach my students with this is to see how dashes and dots of colors can work together to make designs. They are welcome to make whatever they want with whatever colors they wish, but we are going to TRY to make space between the dashes to emulate Ms. Thomas’s style.
Gather your materials. I am using water color paper, acrylic paint, and a paintbrush for each student. I am also putting it all on a tray. This is just to contain the mess when we work with acrylics. You can use any type of paint though.
Cut the paper in half. Since we are focusing on making small dashes and dots to create a whole picture keeping the canvas small makes it less overwhelming.
I don’t usually use samples when teaching like this, but in this case, where I want them to explore a certain technique or style I made a few to make the task seem accessible.
Have lots of extra paper so students can make more if they connect with this activity or want to start over. While I try to steer a child to work with what they have, I try to respect their desire to start over if I have the supplies to do so.
Need another great preschool lesson for Black History Month?
This is one of my favorite lessons about a wonderful inventor who has saved countless lives, Garrett Morgan!