Every year, Kwanzaa begins on December 26th. Generally celebrated among the African American community, Kwanzaa is a 7 day long festival honoring African culture and heritage. Below is a list of Kwanzaa activities for kids that bring to light the seven principles of the celebration in a fun way that children will enjoy.
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Kwanzaa Sensory Bin
As with any holiday activity list, I always start with a sensory bin. It gives a quick glimpse of all aspects of the holiday and provides an overview of activities to come when in a classroom environment.
In a Kwanzaa sensory bin, the base is dry corn (such as pop corn kernels). The corn, or Muhindi (moo-heen-dee), represents the children and the future.
For add-ins, use play vegetables to represent the harvest, cups as unity cups, bottles, and spoons. If available, use black, red, and green colors for cups and spoons – as those are the traditional colors of Kwanzaa.
The Seven Principles of Kwanzaa
There are seven principles of Kwanzaa. Each one is celebrated on one of the seven days during the festival. The principles are unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith. On the day dedicated to the principle, the corresponding candle color is lit in the Kinara. Have fun with the following activities with focus on the principle of the day!
Unity: African Drumming
On the first day of Kwanzaa, the principle of focus is unity. A great way to celebrate unity is to do something fun together.
Using the shaker drums below, play together to create beautiful African style songs.
For older children, assign them different rhythms and change between shaker and drum so when played together it makes united music.
Self-Determination: Fruit & Veggie Hunt
When celebrating self-determination it is important to provide an opportunity for individual problem solving in order to spark thinking and self-worth.
For this activity, hide various play foods around the room or house. Hide some in difficult to reach spots like far under a table or shelf.
Children will need to come up with a way to retrieve the items. Encourage them to find the solution themselves and give praise when they figure it out.
Collective Work: Set a Kwanzaa Table
A traditional Kwanzaa table setting includes seven symbols of the holiday:
- The Mkeka (mat) to symbolize the foundation
- Kikombe cha Umoja (The Unity Cup) which represents family and community
- A Kinara (candleholder) that holds the seven principles candles
- Mishumaa Saba (seven candles) in black, red, and green that are placed in the Kinara
- Mazao (crops) from the harvest which include fruits and vegetables
- Muhindi (corn) to represent the children and the future
- Zawadi (gifts) such as a book or African heritage keepsake given to children
If you don’t have access to a Kinara, I made mine out of styrofoam and painted it yellow. The unity cup can be any cup you have, but I decorated a small cup with a Kwanzaa theme.
Assign the children one of the symbols to place on the table. They will have to work together to figure out that the mat will need to go first, that they have right number of candles, and that they don’t forget any of the symbols.
If anything is missed, realize that it is no one person’s fault, but that they needed to work together to solve their problem.
Cooperative Economics: Storefronts
If you’ve watched Bluey, this one may sound familiar. The idea of cooperative economics is building businesses that work together and support each other.
Divide the children into three groups. Group A will run a restaurant. Group B will be a supermarket. And Group C will be a construction team.
As a whole, decide who needs to begin working. The restaurant has no building or food to make. The store has goods, but nowhere to sell them. The construction team needs to get to work constructing the store.
They then need to move onto the restaurant, purchasing extra materials needed from the store. Once built, Group A will need to purchase food items from the supermarket and begin preparing food. The hungry construction workers will now be able to patronize the restaurant!
The children should be able to see that the community created in the classroom couldn’t exist without the work of each other’s business.
Purpose: Career Day Role Play
On the day of purpose, ask the children what it is they would like to be when they grow up. Allow them to serve in that role for the day.
For example, if they want to be a police officer, have them remind others of the classroom or house rules and make sure others follow them. If they want to be a firefighter, make them in charge of filling up water bottles or keeping doorways clear. Wanna-be singers can lead the class in music. And future astronauts can look to the sky to help with the weather.
Some occupations may require a bit of creativity on the adults part. My toddler decided he wanted to be a cat, so he was in charge of hugs and making people smile. Those who share the same job can divide the work. Be sure to point out how everyone has a purpose!
Creativity: Kwanzaa Color Abstract
It’s time to be creative and make some art to beautify your environment.
Using black, red, and green paint, have the children make an abstract masterpiece. If you are in a classroom or have multiple children, consider making it a group activity, creating one big art piece which will also tie into the collective work principle.
Encourage different techniques such as splatter painting or use different items as brushes. Infants can spend tummy time swirling the paint around with their hands.
There is no wrong way to do this activity. Just be creative!
Faith: Big Jumps
On the last day of Kwanzaa, we celebrate faith.
The greatest activities to demonstrate this are through gross motor play. Gross motor involves big movements, which can be intimidating to small bodies. Every day, children put their faith in their caregivers and themselves to keep them safe.
For this activity, find a platform of some sort. It can be a small tumble mat or pillow for infants or a stump or rock found outside for older kids. Once the platform is ready, encourage the children to climb up and jump off, reassuring them. Be nearby for help and holding if needed.
Acknowledge the faith you put in each other to complete the task.
Geometric Kwanzaa Mat
A Kwanzaa mat is an important symbol during the week-long event. It represents the foundation that everything rests on.
While generally woven, this mat can be made easier by stamping or gluing for smaller hands.
Children can create their own patterns or choose to follow one. For toddlers, draw lines for them to stay within while stamping or gluing in order to keep the mat patterns linear. Stamps and paper bits can be any shape, so long as they are similar sizes.
Be sure to sick to the black, red, and green colors that represent Kwanzaa.
To make the shaker drum, you will need an empty cylinder container. They can be different sizes if you are making more than one.
You will also need a piece of wax, parchment, or freezer paper, and a rubber band. If the container had a lid, you may use that as well
The last thing needed is dry popcorn.
Decorate the cylinder in Kwanzaa colors. To assemble, simply add the popcorn to the container and cover with the lid or paper and rubber band.
Use hands and fingers to drum and give it a shake for a double instrument.
Enjoy your Kwanzaa celebration!
Heri za Kwanzaa!