Bo’s summer plans completely change when her mother moves into a Harlem brownstone with her fiance and another family. Overnight, Bo goes from being an only child to having three new sisters. The girls are ‘free schooled’, a type of homeschooling in which children choose different research projects to pursue. They visit the Louis Armstrong Museum, rehabilitate a community garden, and throw a block party for the neighborhood. Along the way, Bo learns how to be uniquely herself within the context of her family and community.
In keeping with the sisters’ free schooling, here are a few spiritually nurturing projects to explore with children ages 8+ as they read Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich’s delightful novel:
1. Bo’s mother teaches her about the mostly Black community of Seneca Village, whose property was taken to construct Central Park. Every time Bo plays on the park swings, she offers words of thanks to the past residents and contemplates how she can honor them by standing up for herself. Research together the former inhabitants of your home, favorite playground, or school. Create a ritual or routine that both thanks and honors those who cared for the land before you.
2. In her old apartment building, Bo encouraged the residents to have monthly Back-in-the-Day gatherings to build intergenerational relationships and celebrate the history and diversity of their community. For example, Ms. Douglas wanted to look at the building’s hip-hop past by playing classic hip-hop and sharing stories she knew. Imagine holding your own Back-in-the-Day gathering. Who would you invite to participate? What community-building activities would you like to focus on? Why do you think it’s important to remember and celebrate the past?
3. As a newcomer, Bo spends a lot of time thinking about who she is in her new community. She loves to cook, is very organized, and is part Nigerian. From her new friends, she learns to love animals, appreciate free schooling, and play drums in her sisters’ band. Invite children to create a portrait of themselves that includes aspects and skills that they think of as personal traits and characteristics that they have mostly learned from others. On the left side of the portrait, encourage them to write down all the things they see as unique to them. On the right side of the portrait, suggest that they write down all the traits they have acquired from their community. Reflect together on how each person is a mix of individuality and communal influences.
4. Bo and her sisters often turn to music to help them do chores, celebrate or deal with challenges. They sing and riff on various songs, from old spirituals to jazz music to more contemporary artists. Ask children to identify songs that have helped them feel joyful, empowered, accomplished, peaceful, and comforted at various times in their lives. They might include remembered lullabies, protest songs, religious hymns, hip hop, rock, classical music, and other genres. Then create a playlist that they can use whenever they want to remind themselves of the uniquely wonderful people they are.