Teaching Kids about Martin Luther King Jr.

Guest post by Christine Lindstrom of Lindstroms on the Road.

Each year, the third Monday in January is celebrated as a national holiday in memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It was chosen to correspond to his birthday, which was January 15. He would have turned 90 this year. On January 21, choose to honor King’s legacy by teaching your kids about him and the ideals he sacrificed his life for. There are many ways to do this, including engaging in community service, learning from books and videos, even traveling to significant places from his life for a more hands on experience!

“A day on, not a day off”

In 1994, a law was passed designating the Martin Luther King Jr Day as a national day of service. There are many ways for kids and families to join in and serve the local community, wherever the road takes you.

Check websites, bulletin boards, and newspapers for information about organized service opportunities nearby. Schools, churches, and community organizations are great places to look. There is also a national database that can help you find a service opportunity for MLK Day.

While organized service is a great way to get connected with a local community, families can also find simple ways to serve where they are. Take a trash hunting walk or hike to clean up a nearby park or trail. Ask the campground where you’re staying if there are ways you can serve on site. Be on the lookout for neighbors with needs. What better way to honor King’s legacy than to serve those around you?

In King’s own words, “Everybody can be great because everybody can serve.”

Educational Resources

It is important that our kids learn about the history of the Civil Rights Movement and the ideals of non-violent protest that King so beautifully modeled. This holiday is a perfect opportunity to share books and other resources to introduce kids to one of the central figures of American history in the 20th Century. Libraries are sure to have resources available. Here are some other ideas to get you started:

Books

If your kids have access to Amazon Freetime, there are a few books available there electronically. One is an early reader called My Itty Bitty Bio: Martin Luther King Jr.. The other is National Geographic Kids: Martin Luther King Jr. and it is ideal for early elementary readers. The Who was? series has a book, Who was Martin Luther King Jr? which is longer and best suited for late elementary and middle school readers.

Videos

YouTube is a great place to find educational videos to help kids learn about Martin Luther King, Jr. One of my favorites is from Kid President and it’s only about 3 minutes long. I also recommend A Kid Explains History. There are many videos of books available, such as this one from Granny’s Book Nook and this one from LitKids. Don’t forget the value of primary sources! Consider giving kids a chance to hear recordings of some of King’s most famous speeches, including, “I have a dream…” from the March on Washington and “the mountaintop speech” which was his last speech, delivered just a day before his assassination. (There are many videos that depict these speeches in their entirety or shortened versions. Choose the length that is best for your child. The links above are abbreviated videos that have been subtitled to make it easier to understand.)

Activities

Sometimes it can be hard to know how to help kids respond to what they are learning through books and videos. Learning about Dr. King means learning about some difficult and painful things, such as racism, violence, and hatred. It may be sensitive for many kids that King’s life was so suddenly and dramatically cut short. Parents are encouraged to sit with their kids as they learn about and process these issues. Here are some free resources that are available through Teachers Pay Teachers to help kids respond to and process what they are learning.

Kids can create a 9-page mini-book which gives them space to sort out details about King’s life and work into graphic organizers, as well as writing prompts to write down their thoughts and create their own persuasive speeches. Those who enjoy cut and paste activities might prefer to create this timeline and use the books they are reading to put important dates from King’s life into chronological order. On BrainPOP, kids can watch a 6 minute movie about MLK and then participate in interactive activities. There is also a free printable activity packet including vocabulary practice, sequencing cards, and discussion cards.

*Teachers Pay Teachers requires visitors to create a free profile in order to download resources.

Follow in his Footsteps

While King’s 90th birthday will be commemorated across the country, special celebrations are planned in significant locations from his life. A roadtrip to Atlanta, Memphis, or Washington DC would be a memorable and hands-on way to learn more!

Atlanta, GA

At the Martin Luther King Jr National Historic Site, visitors can tour important places from King’s life, such as his boyhood home, Ebenezer Baptist Church, and his tomb. There is also a museum about his life at the visitor center. A full week of events is planned by The King Center in honor of his 90th birthday, including concerts, speakers, service opportunities and a march/rally. The full schedule of events is available from The King Center.

Memphis, TN

The National Civil Rights Museum is at the site of the former Lorraine Motel in Memphis, where King was assassinated. Events planned for January 21 include service opportunities, a children’s tent, health screenings, and live entertainment. Visitors can also tour the museum, where the historic facade is still intact and his final motel room has been preserved. Special admission discounts are offered to those donating to the food drive or the blood drive.

Washington, DC

The Martin Luther King Jr Memorial in Washington DC is just a short distance from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, where King delivered his famous “I have a dream…” speech in 1963. Special events are planned in the vicinity of the MLK memorial on January 21, including a peace walk and a parade. A full schedule of events can be found at https://mlkholidaydc.org/.

*It is unknown at this time how the government shutdown will affect plans for the above events. Please consult the websites or call event hosts for up-to-date information.

More than 50 years after his death, Martin Luther King Jr’s dream lives on in those who answer his call to love, peace, and change. Let’s teach a new generation to value and pursue these ideals. Happy 90th birthday Dr. King!

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