Ideas for Honoring Martin Luther King, Jr. Day with Young Children
Adapted from Anti-Bias Education for Young Children and Ourselves by Louise Derman-Sparks & Julie Olsen Edwards.
Very young children can grasp the idea of honoring people whose work makes life better for others, even though children’s understanding reflects their developmental stage. By age 4, children can begin connecting activities about social justice holidays to their own experiences with unfairness and fairness. Although they cannot understand fully all the facts and complexities of history, young children can learn that many grown ups have worked, and continue to work to make the world a safe, fair, and good place.
Here are some ideas and tips for teachers and families:
Read and discuss children's books
There are many books about justice and fairness that teachers and families can read and discuss with young children.
A few suggestions:
- The Streets are Free by Kurusa
- Planting the Trees of Kenya by Claire Nivola
- No Fair to Tigers/No es justo para los tigres by Eric Hoffman
Be true to the holiday's meaning
In the United States, one of the most frequently recognized social justice holidays is Martin Luther King Jr. Day. In discussing such occasions with children, be sure to make clear what the holidays truly recognize, rather than perpetuating misconceptions or oversimplifying the meaning of the person’s life’s work.
Martin Luther King, for example, was trying to make the world a more just place--not just one where everyone gets along. As he articulated often, “True peace is not merely the absence of tension, it is the presence of justice.” Rosa Parks (1992) also made clear that she sat down in the front of the bus not simply because she was physically tired from work but because she was sick and tired of injustice.
Make collages or books
Activities provide children with materials and ideas that last beyond the specific day or celebration!
For Martin Luther King Jr. Day, make a book with the children about women and men in the children’s families and neighborhoods who help make a better life for people. Ask children and families to suggest different people. With their permission, get or take a photograph of each one and write a few sentences about the person. When you read the book to the children, invite them to add other sentences.
Here are a few additional books suggestions
The Story of Ruby Bridges by Henry Coles
recommended ages: 4-8
This book tells the true story of six-year-old Ruby Bridges who in 1960 must walk through an angry mob to attend first grade at an all-white school in New Orleans.
Rosa by Nikki Giovanni
recommended ages: 4-8
A retelling of how in 1955 in Montgomery Alabama, Ms. Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white passenger, after the white section was filled.
Susan Friedman is Senior Director, Publishing and Professional Learning at NAEYC.