How to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day with the kids
It’s a sweet day off—often for both children and their parents.
But Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, celebrated the third Monday of January in honor of the civil rights leader’s birthday (officially Jan. 15), also is a great time to educate, as well as entertain, our kids.
First, pull your children and teens away from the TV, video games and other devices by making it a family day. Look in your local paper for a list of parades, speeches, musicals and other events in your community, and plan a family outing.
Next, consider teaching kids to consider how Dr. King would have liked us to honor his memory.
Former Pennsylvania U.S. Senator Harris Wofford and Atlanta Congressman John Lewis challenged Americans to make the holiday a day of service in honor of King, and President Bill Clinton signed the legislation into law in 1994.
Those in Philadelphia know about the King Day of Service, the largest in the nation, but organizations around the United States also participate, while volunteers across the country donate time to make their communities a better place to live.
So, idea No. 2 is to inspire children to reach out to help others. With a bit of parental supervision, even the youngest kids can put on work gloves, grab a trash bag and pick up litter around the neighborhood. If the weather rules that out, how about visiting an elderly relative, or bringing a batch of cookies to a nursing home?
A third idea? Head to the movies for a viewing of Selma, the Oscar-nominated movie that recounts the Alabama civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, that helped lead to the signing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
After a parade, movie and a few volunteer hours, there’s still plenty of time for a lesson.
In a blog for the School Library Journal, Elizabeth Bird, New York Public Library’s Youth Materials Collections Specialist, offers a great list of books that promise to teach kids about King’s dream of peace and equality. A few of her suggestions:
Happy Birthday, Martin Luther King, by Jean Marzollo, illustrated by J. Brian Pinkney, educates young readers about the life of King.
As Good as Anybody: Martin Luther King Jr. and Abraham Joshua Heschel’s Amazing March Toward Freedom, by Richard Michelson, illustrated by Raul Colón, focuses on the friendship of two icons for social justice.
I’ve Seen the Promised Land: The life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., by Walter Dean Myers, illustrated by Leonard Jenkins, is a perfect choice for the younger readers, as text is easy to read.
Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by Doreen Rappaport, illustrated by Bryan Collier, the pictures in this book help children grasp the accomplishments of a great man.
Who Was Martin Luther King, Jr.? by Bonnie Bader, illustrated by Elizabeth Wolf, this early-reader chapter book introduces readers to the life of King, including how he organized the Montgomery Bus Boycott. We suggest having the kids read it aloud to the whole family, or take turns reading. In other words, make it a loving family event. It’s what the great MLK would have wanted.