I decided to assign a Women’s History project to my students this year. It feels great! The last time that I taught Second Grade, this was one of the projects that I assigned to my class. Actually, I asked my kids to choose a woman from their family or that they knew for the project. This year, the task was to select a woman in history that is still living.
It was really important to me that I intentionally assigned my class the task of selecting a living legend because soooo many students STILL believe that history is past tense. On top of that, many students don’t really recognize that women actually do great things that impact our lives every single day. I think that it’s because moms are queens and rule the world, and they are just “supposed to do amazing things”. Right? It seems so comical, but when you really think about it, kids really do think of women as just moms.
We need to change this! Do your children actually know what you do (or your wife/girlfriend/partner/friend)? If not, why don’t they?!
The History of Women’s History Month
Interestingly, Women’s History Month began as just a week; the same way that Black History Month began. In the 1970s, it was noted that women in history were seldom found consistently in the K-12 curriculum. In response to this observation, the Education Task Force of Sonoma (California) County Commission on the Status of Women in history enacted “Women in History Week” in 1978. For some time, the celebration remained a week of celebration that featured classroom speeches, community-based activities, and culminated with a parade.
International Women’s Day: Bringing Equity
March 8th, International Women’s Day, was chosen as the central focus point of the celebration. More than a hundred women from the community volunteered to give speeches in classrooms around the country. There was also the “Real Woman” essay contest that drew hundreds of entries. Momentum for the week began to spread, and more and more school districts in a variety of states began to acknowledge the week. Many school systems saw this as an important way to establish gender equity in the classroom.
Officially Women’s History Month!
In February of 1980, President Jimmy Carter proclaimed the week of March 8th as Women’s History Week nationally. Then, in 1987, with 14 states already observing the entire month of March as a time to celebrate the accomplishments and achievements of women, Congress officially proclaimed it as Women’s History Month.
Activating Women’s History Month in the Classroom
Fast forward to today, how many of our young men and women readily know and reflect on the contributions that so many women have made, and are continuously making, to our history? Local history. United States history. World history. Women are both building doors AND knocking them down! What life force can continue on without the aid of a woman? Women bring life to the world, and yet, are often the least to be honored and recognized for doing so.
Women’s history month is a way that we, as educators, can completely turn this around. Our students are a captivated audience that is just waiting to be enlightened. So, let’s enlighten them!
Where to Begin
Getting started is easy. I think that it is absolutely key to announce that the month of March is designated as Women’s History Month! Students should know this information. They should also know that the contributions of women are not relegated to this one month solely. That is the way that I feel about every “____ Month”- that month should not be the first, or only, time that your class had ever studied or learned more about that group of individuals/culture/tradition, etc…
Shout It From the Rooftops!
So, when you read about a woman that has done something remarkable, talk it up, be excited, draw attention to it. Starting can be simple. I love children’s literature, so for me, grabbing an amazing book is usually at the top of my list. Remember, you can read a poem (Mya Angelou, Emily Dickenson, Naomi Shihab Nye, or Jacqueline Woodson are great options ), show a work of art, play a video of a performance, discuss a law, show a news clip or documentary…. the sky is limitless!
Women have done SO much! Don’t limit yourself to just women in your home country. What are women in other parts of the world contributing to their communities? When I tell you that you can have so much fun with this topic! Dive in and completely get lost in the possibilities!
Bring It to Life!
You could study women in Africa that are creating and selling beautiful bead, yarn (Remember those “Friendship Bracelets” that we used to make?), or fabric bracelets. Could you allow your students the chance to create a bracelet of their own? Can you see how much value you have just added to this experience? Now, they can see how much work is involved and learn how amazing it is to create something with their own hands.
Here is a short and simple video that demonstrates a fairly easy technique for making fabric bracelets.
Take it a step further, once the bracelets (or any item that you have chosen to create) can be sold at a “mini-market”. Maybe the proceeds could be donated to a women’s charity or used to do something that honors an amazing woman that works at your school or from the community.
Teach Through Literature
Reading books to your students can be a very effective and easy way to introduce, enhance, and/or present information. Find books that focus on one specific woman who has made magnificent contributions to the world, or a book that features multiple women making great strides in history.
Here are some of my favorite books on fierce women!
This Little Trailblazer: A Girl Power Primer by Joan Holub
Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History by Vashti Harrison
Malala’s Magic Pencil by Malala Yousafzai
When Wilma Rudolph Played Basketball by Mark Weakland
Here is a list of a few books that I have not read yet, but they look absolutely amazing!!
I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark by Debbie Levy
She Persisted Around the World: 13 Women Who Changed History by Chelsea Clinton and Alexandra Boiger
Little Dreamers: Visionary Women from Around the World by Vashti Harrison
Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly
Mae Among the Stars by Stasia Burrington
I also love having an easy way to help me teach about topics that I might not have a large amount of “stored” knowledge about. It’s easy to grab a card and have a woman in history that I can share with my students. I can pre-prep information and resources about their remarkable achievements, allow my students to conduct research in small groups, or use them for a quick lesson if time is shorter than I planned. You can grab the full set of 24 cards for your students here.
How do you celebrate the vast talents that women contribute to the world with your students? I would love to have more ideas in my arsenal! Share your ideas in the comment section.
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