Celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr. Day With Children
It happens the third Monday of January every year: the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. This celebration has been a federal holiday since 1983 and it was finally formally recognized as such in all 50 states by 2000. It's a day for celebrating racial diversity and remembering one of the most important leaders of the civil rights era. However, it's a holiday that might require a little thought to present to children as an entertaining option. Here's a couple of ideas of activities you can do with your children to help them appreciate the importance of this special day.
1. Share a Book With Them
There are a number of children's books that do a great job of presenting Dr. King's life and accomplishments in terms children can understand. Try some of these:
- Martin's Big Words by Doreen Rappaport. Rappaport uses key words from King's own important speeches to explain his actions and impact on the world in ways that children can understand. We learn that Martin hungered for big words by listening to the sermons his father made in church. We follow him from the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott through the march on Washington in 1963, and then to the Nobel Prize in 1964, and every step of the way, we read his words. Bryan Collier's brilliant watercolor paintings are vivid and lifelike. While the book does touch very briefly on King's assassination, but the author stresses that King's big words are still alive and important today.
- A Sweet Smell of Roses by Angela Johnson. In 1963, two young girls sneak out of their home to join a number of their neighbors as they head for a protest march led by Dr. King. The stark, lifelike black and white line drawings by Eric Velasquez are punctuated on each page with a single stroke of red; this red, symbolizing the hope that King represents amid the despair of segregation and prejudice. This is the "sweet smell of roses" in the title.
- Happy Birthday, Martin Luther King by Jean Marzollo. In this simple, straightforward biography, acclaimed children's author Jean Marzollo present the life of Dr. King in language children can understand. While this biography does not go into great detail, it does a good job of introducing younger children to the life and legacy of Dr. King.
2. Introduce Them to His Speeches
One of the things Dr. King was known best for was his stirring, inspirational speeches. You can help your children understand his legacy by letting them listen to his words as he said them. Your local library may have recordings of his speeches available on Mp3 or CD. Alternatively, you can go to youtube and view videos such as this one:
I Have a Dream
3. Take Part in a Service Project
One of the new trends in celebrating Dr. King's life and legacy is the idea that this should be a service day rather than holiday. The Corporation for National and Community Service offers a website, with a searchable database that can help you find suitable service projects in your area. Community leaders can also add their own projects to the database and look for volunteers. Get involved with others in your neighborhood at work to make the world a better place, just as Dr. King did.
4. Make a Craft
Just for fun, try this easy Brotherhood Wreath. You will need:
- A paper plate
- Construction paper in different shades of peach, brown, and black
- A pencil
- Your child's hand
- Cut a large round circle out of the very center of a standard paper plate. It will look like a donut.
- Trace your child's hand on a piece of peach, brown, or tan paper and cut it out. This will be your template.
- Trace around your template, and create at least three hands in different colors of brown, tan, peach, black, or other colors that resemble the natural colors of human skin.
- Glue the hands to the paper plate; alternate the different hand colors to show the hands of different colors side by side, working together.