Perhaps you have made plans to see a movie on your day off with the children, or to go shopping at the mall. Or perhaps your kids will be with a sitter while you’re at work – I know, not all of us get this national holiday off! May I humbly suggest that whatever your plans, you take just a few minutes to sit down with your children and talk about WHY Monday is a national holiday, WHY they don’t have school. Just WHO IS Martin Luther King Jr., and why do we celebrate him as a national hero? Don’t be afraid to broach the subject of race even with young children. Research shows that contrary to common belief, this is actually the best time to influence a child’s racial views by talking explicitly about outward differences and internal commonalities, to talk about fairness and kindness. (See more on this research in my post, “Talking to Kids about Race”.)
I have put together a sort of “lesson plan” for the families that I will lead tomorrow at a service project with “Wee Volunteer” for the National Day of Service in honor of Dr. King. I hope it will give you some ideas of how to honor Dr. King with your own family tomorrow – after breakfast, at a play-date, at the dinner table…
- Why are we out of school today? What is special about today? First, find out what they already know. It may be more than you think. Of perhaps you’ve assumed that their teachers have discussed this with them, but they haven’t. Answer the question simply. “Today is a National Holiday called Martin Luther King Jr. Day in honor of an American hero. He was a leader in the civil rights movement that helped America to become a better country for everyone.” Show a picture of him that you find on the internet or in an encyclopedia. They need to recognize his face.
- What do they know about him? Go into more details if the timing is right. “He was a minister who followed Jesus. He reminded us that we are all God’s children, no matter what we look like on the outside, and deserve to be treated with respect. Deserve He believed in fighting hate with love. He was a peace-maker like Jesus who showed us the right way to live.” If they are older, acknowledge that MLK Jr. gave his life for his beliefs and for our country.
- Say together the Pledge of Allegiance. (Do you have a flag you can put up?) Focus on the last phrase, “with freedom and justice for all“, and tell your children that this is what Dr. King wanted for our country. For all people, male and female, black or white to have the right to vote, to get a good education, to go to the public library, to choose where they sit on a bus or in a movie theatre, even to become president! Ask your children, “How does it make you feel when someone you know is treated unfairly?” With older children, address the BIG question, “Do you feel that things are fair in our country today?” Talk about what you can do as an individual to maintain or increase fairness in our society.
- How do people celebrate MLK Day? Some people have parades. Many people volunteer for the annual “National Day of Service” in his honor, doing some good deed for others along side of other citizens. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: ‘What are you doing for others?’“ Each year, Americans across the country answer that question by coming together on the King Holiday to serve their neighbors and communities. Can you think of other cities or states in America? What “Service projects” might others be doing today in these places? What can we do to help someone today?
- Do you know a famous speech by MLK? “I have a dream” speech from the March on Washington in 1963. His dream was that one day his children would not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. Parents, think of something you like about your child’s character, and share this with them. Ask them what their dreams are for their future. Remind them that every child in America should be able to follow their dreams. Show them the famous speech, watch the short version, watch the full video
- If Martin Luther King Jr. were alive today, what do you think he would say about the second inauguration of President Obama on this special day in Washington D.C.? Watch the inauguration together at 10:30 (or TiVo and watch later in the day like me…)
- Teach an easy hand rhyme that will be fun and ensure that they never forget this important man and his most famous line… (I’ve been saying this to my kiddos since they were tots, so they know it by heart. That’s what happens with patterns.)
“Martin Luther King said, ‘I have a dream.’
Martin Luther King said, ‘I have a dream.’ “
(Face one another, Pat knees in rhythm (3 times) for “Martin Luther King said”, clap your hands together 2 times for “I have” and clap your partner’s hands for “dream”. Not only are you teaching history, you’re playing together, experiencing rhythmic movement, sharing eye contact and physical touch, all great for developing brains and bonds!)
7. Sing “My Country Tis of Thee“ together, and see if they can find a famous line in the song that Dr. King used in his famous speech. (“Let freedom ring!“) Talk about freedom. “What is freedom? What freedoms to we enjoy each day? What freedoms to we take for granted that some people had to fight for? That people in other countries don’t have?” Just this morning, I met a young Iraqi man who had been forced into the army when he was 12, his teenage years stolen from him. The government frowned upon music and the arts, and his violin teacher was killed in a bombing. Because his father was a college biology professor, his family had to have security guards protecting them, and they finally escaped to our country to protect themselves. This was a stark reminder to me of the many daily freedoms that I enjoy without a second thought. Today is the kind of day that we should take a little time to give thanks for these freedoms, and to the brave heroes and leaders like Dr. King who made them possible for all of us.
May we strive to fulfill his dream in our own lives, in our own ways, for other Americans.