MLK Day: A Family Conversation…

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 tomorrow 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 will take my kiddos to 2 service projects that I’m leading for “Wee Volunteer” as we celebrate the National Day of Service in honor of Dr. King – one at a nursing home, and one at Family Gateway, a homeless shelter downtown. I’d like to share with you  some questions to help guide a conversation about  Martin Luther King Jr. in hopes that it will give you some ideas of how to honor Dr. King with your own family on Monday – after breakfast, at a play-date, at the dinner table…

  1. 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.

  2. 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. He wanted ALL Americans to have equal rights and freedoms. 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.

    He was also a father…this is something kids will relate to.

  3. 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 and white, of any religion, to have the right to vote, to get a good education, to go to the library, to choose where to 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 increase fairness in our society.7164_10151707727643554_976452613_n
  4. 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?  See the list of “Wee Volunteer” Projects for Monday: WV January Project list
    Make a new friend at a Pebbles Birthday Party!

    Make a new friend at a Pebbles Birthday Party!


    Make or share a gift for someone in need….These “Wee Volunteers” are assembling blessing bags for the homeless.


    These “Wee Volunteers” are delivering back packs full of food to hungry kids.


    Deliver “Meals on Wheels” to an elderly citizen.

  5. 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 versionwatch the full video
  6. 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?” 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. Do you have any bells in your house? As you give thanks for each freedom, let your child ring the bell, and sing “let freedom ring“.

Ringing bells with kids in Vickery Meadows.

Ringing bells with kids in Vickery Meadows.

May we strive to fulfill his dream in our own lives, in our own ways, for other Americans…