Here are 5 ways to help kids learn about King's legacy and message.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is more than a day off work or school—it's an opportunity to learn about MLK's message of unity and embody his life of service to the community. His wife, Coretta Scott King, wrote in the Washington Post in 1983, "... the holiday must be substantive as well as symbolic. It must be more than a day of celebration. To many Americans, a holiday means a 'day of rest.' Let this holiday be a day of reflection, a day of teaching nonviolent philosophy and strategy, a day of getting involved in nonviolent action for social and economic progress."

With that in mind, here are 5 ways you and your family can treat it as "a day on, not a day off."

Watch

For younger children, check out the Sesame Street short, I Love My Hair (also available in Spanish), or Kid President's sweet summary of MLK's life.

For older children, watch MLK's landmark speech, "I Have A Dream," or make a movie night out of the 2018 film, The Hate U Give


Courtesy of The New York Public Library Digital Collections

Read

For younger children, cozy up and read The Story of Martin Luther King, Jr. or IntersectionAllies: We Make Room for All, which uses colorful illustrations and relevant situations to teach children how to embrace differences. 

For older children, consider reading the timely Dear Martin or All American Boys, about young Black teenagers dealing with police violence, racism, and understanding their own identities. You can also get your own copy if you'd like, and have discussions about what you're both reading.

(Consider buying these from a local BIPOC-owned bookstore.)

Do

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was designated as a national day of service. Ask your children (of any age) where they've seen a need—is there litter to pick up at their favorite park, or a nearby senior center to make and deliver "Caring Cards"? Wherever their interests lie, there's sure to be a way to connect them with service. If they're not sure, or you're having a hard time thinking of ideas, generationON or Just Serve have some great opportunities. Browse their pages and see what grabs your children's attention. 


Photo by Sigmund on Unsplash

Make

For younger children, Moneycrashers suggests coloring a drawing of MLK. Crayola offers a few for free here. They can also write down and decorate one of MLK's quotes to hang up in their rooms or on the fridge.

For older children, Moneycrashers also has the excellent idea to invite them to "write their own 'I Have a Dream' letter documenting what dreams they have for the world in which they live."

Discuss

With young children, consider using one of the above activities as a jumping-off point: What does this coloring page depict? Why do we serve on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day? 

With older children, you might think about each taking these Hidden Bias Tests, developed by psychologists at Harvard, the University of Virginia, and the University of Washington. Consider taking them separately, so they (and you) feel they can be totally honest in their responses. Help your children understand that biases can be automatic and unconscious, but that our "willingness to examine (our) own possible biases is an important step in understanding the roots of stereotypes and prejudice in our society." 

Lastly, this resource applies to children of all ages: Raising Race-Conscious Children: How to Talk to Kids About Race and Racism.

Are you considering applying any of these ideas to your own family's observance of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day? What ideas do you have to help kids understand its importance? Let us know in the comments.