How to Teach Kids About Martin Luther King Day

With a fresh year just beginning, this is an opportune time to help children set a respectful and kind tone for the year ahead. Many offices and schools will be closed for Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday, January 15, making the nationally recognized holiday a great chance for teachers and parents to teach children about civil rights and American history. While older children are likely to have a better grasp on the civil rights movement and King’s efforts, start small with little ones by explaining how everyone can help make a difference in the world through kindness and respect, just like King did. Here are six ways you can help even the youngest kids understand the importance of his life:

1. Read a book about MLK. Reading stories to kids can be a great way for them to learn about King’s life and work. Children’s books, like “My Brother Martin” by Christine King Farris or “I Am Brave: A Little Book about Martin Luther King, Jr.” by Brad Meltzer, that are geared toward readers as young as 2 years old can be thoughtful and educational explainers for little minds. For more Martin Luther King Jr. Day reading recommendations, check out the Scholastic MLK picture book roundup, their list of MLK books for early readers or their MLK books for ages 10 and up.

2. Watch a film on MLK. Check your streaming services (fees may apply) for films on MLK, his work and his life, including the following. Don’t forget to check film ratings and reviews to make sure they’re appropriate for your viewing party.

  • “King in the Wilderness” (2018) – Watch it on HBO Max
  • “I Am MLK Jr.” (2018) – Watch it on Amazon Prime
  • “I Am Not Your Negro” (2017) – Watch it on Hulu
  • “Selma” (2014) – Watch it on Amazon Prime
  • “Boycott” (2001) – Watch it on HBO Max

3. Discuss hopes and dreams. Drawing inspiration from King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, ask kids what their dreams are. What inspires them? Talk about ways kids and their families can make the world a better place, just like King did. You can have them write down these dreams and ideas or daw pictures and then hang the paper on the fridge (or elsewhere at home) to serve as a source of inspiration throughout the year.

4. Volunteer. Children learn through example, so donating your time and demonstrating the importance of helping others will establish a lifetime of giving back for your kids. Go to the MLK Day of Service page on AmeriCorps to locate an age-appropriate volunteer opportunity near you.

5. Create art projects. Have children trace their hands on construction paper and cut them out. Overlap each hand to form a circle and glue them down to a sheet of paper to show that no matter how different we look on the outside, we are all the same on the inside. This learning activity helps demonstrate unity and respect.

6. Look for events. Many towns and cities host parades to honor and celebrate King’s life, which always makes for a fun, culturally enriching outing where kids can learn more. Look into events and/or parades in your area, but here are a few noteworthy ones in 2024:

  • Peace Walk and celebration via the Martin Luther King, Jr. Task Force, Inc.
  • Peace Walk and parade via MLK Holiday DC
  • King Day Community Service Project via The King Center

Allison Green
Boston Tutoring Services

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