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How to Honor Martin Luther King, Jr. Day with Your Kids

How to Honor Martin Luther King, Jr. Day with Your Kids

These 4 easy MLK Day activities for kids will help your family learn about and honor the impact Martin Luther King, Jr. had on the Civil Rights movement.

When the holiday was first declared in 1983, 15 years after Dr. King’s assisnation, his widow, Coretta Scott King, wrote about wanting the day to be meaningful in a way that moves beyond the symbolic. “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."

Eleven years later, Congress officially designated the holiday as a day of service, or, as it is commonly described, “a day on, not a day off.”

While opportunities to gather together to reflect, learn, and serve on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day may be few this year, there are still MLK Day activities you can do with your kids to give the day meaning.

Read a Book About the Civil Rights Movement

To learn about the Civil Rights movement and the practice of non-violence, take a look at one or more of the following books:

For younger children, picture books such as Love Will See You Through, and My Daddy, Martin Luther King, Jr., present age-appropriate retellings of King’s life and legacy.

Books like The Youngest Marcher and Let the Children March highlight the active role that children played in the Civil Rights movement.

For slightly older readers, the award-winning We’ve Got A Job tells the story of the 1963 Birmingham Children’s March through text and photographs.

The late Congressman John Lewis’ graphic novel, March, details his life and work in the Civil Rights movement, and may be a good pick for teens. There are now three volumes of the series available.

For a timely exploration of what it means to serve your community, check out Kamala and Maya’s Big Idea, a story from the early life of our future Vice President.

In addition, these nine books (for ages 3-17) by black authors explore significant historical moments and important black figures. Reading them together can help you start important conversations with your kids.

RELATED: Resources to Talk to Your Kids About Racism, Diversity, and Inclusion

Watch a Movie or Documentary

If you’re looking for an inspirational documentary to watch together as a family, check out We Are the Dream, a film featuring the young performers in the Oakland Martin Luther King Oratorical Fest. It showcases young people raising their voices about issues they care about. You can also check out our list of Black History movies to watch with kids for more movies that discuss racism, civil rights, and segregation. 

When selecting books and film, look for books and other media written, illustrated, or otherwise produced by Black creators to decenter whiteness and amplify Black voices.


Volunteer as a Family

You’ve probably seen the famous MLK quote, “Everyone can be great, because everybody can serve.” It’s a good reminder to children that no one is too small to make a difference.

Large group volunteer gatherings may be off the table this year, but organizations such Americorps and your local Y may still be organizing safe, socially-distant activities such as packing up food donations or making cards to send to elders. Plus, there are a variety of places you can volunteer in the NY metro area as a family.

Though this year may be the time to think small and act locally. Check in with your place of worship or other community centers. Is there a homebound person who could use a meal, a care package, or even just a plate of cookies and a handwritten note? Many folks have endured months of isolation, and reaching out with a kind gesture is a way to serve the community, too.

RELATED: How to Talk to Your Kids About Racism

Donate What You Can

If you have the means, now could also be the time to make a charitable donation as a family. Kids can research organizations working on the issues that mean most to them, and collectively come to an agreement about where to give your family’s contribution.

The holiday provides parents with a good reminder to show our children that every day offers opportunities to do what is right.

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