Martin Luther King Day is a federal holiday dedicated to celebrating the life and impact of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and strengthening our communities through service and volunteering. This holiday is also a day to acknowledge, educate, and reflect on America’s history of racial injustice, and the ongoing fight for justice and equality for all.
Martin Luther King Day gives parents and caregivers the opportunity to share a message with their children about the significance of this national holiday and the values of peace and justice taught by Dr. King. However, talking with your children about social injustice and racism can be tough even if it is necessary. According to Yarrow Dunham, assistant professor of Psychology at Yale University and Director of the Social Cognitive Development Lab, children “identify all kinds of differences quite readily. The critical question is: Which of those differences do they come to think of as important determinants of social identity and social outcomes? They make those decisions by observing the world around them. And here — unfortunately — the world presents them with abundant evidence that race matters.”
Thankfully, there are fun and engaging activities parents and caregivers can do to help navigate this conversation with their children. Here are some age-appropriate activities for families to celebrate this important holiday:
1. Read about Dr. King with your children and family
Reading is a great way to teach children about the life of Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement. Find a comfortable and safe way to tell Dr. King’s story by choosing from one of these age-appropriate books:
- Happy Birthday Martin Luther King by Jean Marzollo
- The Story of Martin Luther King Jr.: A Biography Book for New Readers by Christine Platt
- I Have a Dream by Martin Luther Dr. King Jr. and illustrated by Kadir Nelson
- Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by Doreen Rappaport
- Freedom Summer by Deborah Wiles
2. Have the sometimes difficult but necessary conversation with your children
After reading with your children, have a conversation with them about what you just read. Explain in an age-appropriate way what life was like for Black people and other people of color back in the 60s and even what it is like today. Consider asking open-ended questions to develop a deeper understanding. Here are some questions to guide your conversation:
- What would life be like if we did not have the work of Dr. King and other Civil Rights leaders?
- What do you think Dr. King would be most proud of to see today?
- What do you think Dr. King would be disappointed to see today?
- How can you make a difference in your community?
- What can you do to help others?
If you have younger children in pre-K or kindergarten, you can ask them to draw a picture of how they would feel if they were treated differently.
3. Visit free local events in your community
During MLK day, libraries, museums, and other local community centers host various events in celebration of the late civil rights leader. With the ongoing pandemic, many events have transitioned to virtual so families can easily access and safely participate. Here are some great events in our regions:
- Washington, DC – This year, the DC Public Library is hosting a virtual celebration of MLK day for families.
- Baltimore, MD – Check out Port Discovery Children’s Museum’s “Doers & Dreamers” events happening all MLK weekend.
- Richmond, VA – Check out these fantastic events from Visit Richmond including a guided tour of the Black History Museum & Cultural Center.
- Hampton Roads, VA – Check out some great events from MyActiveChild including a dove making activity at the Portsmouth Public Library.
- Milwaukee, WI – Check out the fantastic line up of events at the Milwaukee Public Library.
- Kansas City, MO – Check out this list of events from The Kansas City Star including the Day of Service at the Cleaver Family YMCA.
- Western Massachusetts – Check out the virtual Springfield Citywide Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Celebration.
- Be sure to check out your local library to see what activities you and your family can participate in!