Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is arguably one of the most iconic figures in our nation’s civil rights history. His passion, persuasion and vision paved the way for African Americans and other minorities to enjoy equality in ways they had previously never imagined possible.
Thankfully, our children live in a socially and culturally evolving time where diversity is celebrated and embraced instead of challenged and feared as in pre-Civil Rights Movement days.
As Martin Luther King Day approaches, here are seven ways you can help your children honor this important historic leader and celebrate the freedoms and equality his efforts were so instrumental in helping become reality.
1. “I Have a Dream” Poster
Find a copy of this speech in a book or online and read it together with your kids. Note how Dr. King repeats the phrase “I have a dream” eight times within the speech.
Focus on the important aspects of the speech. Discuss what segregation and slavery meant historically and how Dr. King had a dream to see those unjust practices end. Note his phrase, “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 current times and note today children of all races go to school together, play together and worship together.
Finally, remind your kids we can all dream about a better world and raise our voices for change. Make posters or pictures together with an “I Have a Dream” title and then ask them to finish the sentence with their hope for the world (e.g., for world peace, for an end to war or world hunger). Then, have them draw pictures representing that dream.
2. Civil Rights List
Growing up in a modern world, it’s easy for our kids and many of us to take the wonderful freedoms we enjoy for granted. Talk about the phrase “civil rights” and help your children make a list of some important ones like freedom of speech, freedom of religion and being protected from discrimination on basis of race, gender, color, ethnicity, or religion to name a few.
Find a list together online with a Google search for “list of civil rights.” Have them pick a favorite and draw a picture or write a paragraph about why that right is important to them, your family and for all Americans. You could also have them write one or more civil rights on the front of an index card and draw a picture on the back about what each right means or give examples of each, like being able to pick your church or pray whenever you want in the case of freedom of religion.
3. Commemorative Community Events
Look in the Community section of your local paper to see if any museums, libraries or cultural centers are hosting any exhibits, plays or other events that commemorate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s life and work.
Plan to visit one or more events with your kids and discuss the things you see and learn. Be sure to encourage them to ask questions about the things they don’t understand and have them share their favorite parts of the day or the best thing they learned.
4. Browsing Stories and Books
There are lots of stories and books that highlight civil rights, diversity, freedom and important civil rights figures/leaders like Dr. King, Rosa Parks, Medgar Evers, and President John F. Kennedy.
Take the kids to your local library and browse through the civil rights, history, and cultural sections or find age-appropriate fiction stories that highlight the freedom and equality principles MLK and other civil rights leaders were striving for, as well as selections highlighting different types of diversity. The librarian should be a great resource to point you to some excellent titles based on your child’s age. Check out your favorite picks and spend time reading and discussing them together as a family at home.
5. Comparing Cultural Freedoms
One way to help your children appreciate the civil liberties we enjoy in America is by pointing out cultural groups or countries that aren’t so lucky.
Do online research regarding civil and human rights by country and explain that while slavery, for instance, is banned by laws and constitutions of most countries of the world, there are some countries that still practice it illegally in the form of trafficking and slave-labor conditions, etc.
You can also note countries that don’t protect or limit freedom of speech and/or freedom of religion like Germany, Greece and Iran. Tailor discussions and details to suit your child’s age and emphasize how wonderful it is that we live in a country where these freedoms abound.
6. Historical Movies
Browse your cable guide, Netflix, Amazon, the library or movie rental store for historical movies that highlight Martin Luther King’s life and work, the Civil Rights Movement, or equality and cultural diversity. Amazon lists several informative titles in documentary and biographical films that highlight Dr. King and Rosa Park’s lives, for example.
Your child’s school librarian would also be an excellent resource to point you toward educational, informative and grade/age level appropriate films to watch with your kids. After the movie, discuss what you saw and the important things they learned.
7. Diversity Collage
Dr. King had a dream that one day white and black children would be able to join hands as brothers and sisters. Have your kids make a collage depicting all the ways kids can be different and the ways they are the same. For instance, draw Asian, Indian, Middle Eastern, African-American, and Caucasian children or do hand print murals in different skin colors.
Use paint, markers, fabric and other fun materials to display ethnic clothes, food, languages, etc. For similarities focus on positive things like “We all love our families,” “We can all dream,” “We can all help each other,” and “We can all make each other smile.”