The other day in the car my oldest asked what we were doing on Monday to observe Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. He had just studied Martin Luther King in school and throughout the past week had been studying the week’s vocabulary words including “demonstration” “boycott” “injustice” “segregation” and “movement” especially as they pertain to Dr. King. We talked about some ideas that we could do as a family and it gave me the idea to share some of those here with you. Because Martin Luther King Day isn’t just a day off from school or work, but a day to pause, reflect, learn and for many, to give back to their communities.
My kids are almost 7 years apart in age so it can be challenging at times to find ways to interest and engage both of them in a topic or activity and certainly their levels of understanding are quite different. In addition, my youngest is not eligible to participate in some of the organized community service activities yet. But here are some ideas for ways to celebrate Martin Luther King Day with young kids so that they can get involved in learning about, honoring and celebrating Dr. King in age appropriate ways. Because learning about Martin Luther King opens the door to many other important conversations, I’ve included some links to online resources for families so that these conversations can extend beyond just one day.
“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?'” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
There are lots of opportunities to volunteer in your community on Martin Luther King Day. But sometimes, for a variety of reasons, that isn’t an option for your family. Or you may prefer to volunteer on days that aren’t as “popular” to ensure that organizations and issues are given attention throughout the year and not only on certain days or holidays.
- Take a walk around your neighborhood and pick up trash
- Walk through your house and gather items to donate to families in need.
- Visit a neighbor that you know could use some company, a meal, or some help around the house.
- Talk about “Spend/Save/Give” and then hop online and research organizations that your kids would like to donate to.
- Set up a Lemonade Stand or host a garage sale and donate the profits.
- Gather books that your kids (or you) have outgrown and donate to a school or library in need.
- This is one of my favorites: Write a letter to a congresswoman or man about an issue you care about. This is obviously a more appropriate activity for older kids but younger ones could draw a picture to include with the letter and/or participate in the conversation about what to write. Most times they come up with better ideas than we do! Find Your Senators Find your Congressperson
Read Books / Watch Videos:
“The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character — that is the goal of true education.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
To celebrate Martin Luther King Day with Kids, Read books/watch videos about Dr. King but also about issues he fought for: racial equality, injustice, non-violent protest. Introduce your children to books and movies that help them see what life is like for people that are different from them.
Here are a few suggestions that are engaging for younger kids as well as a list of other great resources:
Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Martin Luther King Jr.
Child of the Civil Rights Movement
Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom
Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad
We’re Different, We’re the Same (Sesame Street)
One of my favorite resources for families is Books Matter, a wealth of resources put together by the ADL to help “instill empathy, affirm children’s sense of self, teach about others, transport to new places and inspire actions on behalf of social justice.”
This list includes some of their recommendations related to race and racism.
The Story of Martin Luther King Jr by Kid President:
Kids Recite Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech:
TV & MOVIES:
(this list is certainly not exhaustive and includes suggestions for younger and older kids; choose accordingly)
A Ballerina’s Tale (Misty Copeland)
Go Beyond Dr. King
Read about other Civil Rights leaders in addition to Martin Luther King, Jr:
Dedicate your dinner conversation to some of Dr. King’s famous quotes and talk about what they mean to you:
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”
Talk about what they think this quote means.
Ask your kids what some of their dreams are – for the country, for the world, for the future, for themsleves. . .
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
Talk about ideas for how to respond to situations with love; how to handle a situation when someone is treating your or someone else poorly. Talk about the importance of self-love, self-respect and extending that same love and respect to others.
“Nonviolence is a powerful and just weapon, which cuts without wounding and ennobles the man who wields it. It is a sword that heals.”
Discuss non-violent ways to handle conflicts; discuss the importance of using words rather than hitting.
Here are some other helpful links for great “Table Talk” conversations:
Movies and the Diversity Gap
Kids Can Make a Difference
Why We Need Diverse Books
I hope these are some helpful ideas for celebrating Martin Luther King Jr with kids on the official holiday and beyond.
This is of course by no means an exhaustive list. What are some of your ideas or favorite ways to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr Day with your family? Leave a comment below!