Teaching Young Children about Martin Luther King, Jr.

This post is part of the Multicultural Kid Blogs Martin Luther King Day for Kids Blog Series

With all the talk in the news today about race and the race issues and violence that have been occurring I think it is the perfect time to celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday. I have teamed up with some members of Multicultural Kid Blogs to share resources for celebrating Martin Luther King Day. I have decided to share with you ideas on teaching younger children about Dr. King.

A craft from last year

Now in years past we have read books and done crafts to celebrate and learn about Dr. King. There are many children's books out there about Martin Luther King, Jr. and some about the holiday. (I have over forty out of our library right now.) I shared lists of books the past few years (2013 and 2014 1 and 2014 2) that we have read to learn more. Some are very basic about his life and others go into more details. I'll be honest I got a bit bored reading the basic ones because they all seemed to say the same things. The ones that interested me the most are the ones that personalized Dr. King. He is a hero and has a HUGE reputation, however he was also a person. A person like you and me. These are some of the stories I enjoyed reading this year to Hazel. (I should add that Hazel gets excited for every Martin Luther King, Jr. book we read. She claims to love them!)

The first one is My Daddy, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by Martin Luther King III. This is the story of a boy's father. His father who had the same name as him and was well known--sometimes loved and sometimes hated. Marty as his family called him, shares his memories of childhood including being at the "I Have a Dream" Speech when he was five years old. He also shares the fear of telling people his name since he did not know how strangers would react. Reading this book gave me a picture of a son who loves his father and really respected him. It also gave me the image of Dr. King as a loving and devoted father. It tells all of the relevant events but from a child's point of view. I highly recommend it.

 The next book is also told from a child family member's point of view. It is written by Dr. King's niece. It is My Uncle Martin's Big Heart by Angela Farris Watkins, PhD. The goal of this book is to show what a loving man Dr. King was. Angela Farris Watkins was almost four years old when Dr. King was killed. This story is her memories of her Uncle M.L. (M.L. was his nickname in the family so he would not be confused with his father). Many of her memories come from seeing her uncle at church. When she was brought into the sanctuary after child care and/or Sunday School she would run up to her uncle and he would always stop to give her a huge hug. She talks about how everything he did was because he loved God and all people. She also tells about how he always found time to visit her family even with his busy and tiring life. This book is perfect to share the personal side of Dr. King and to remember he was a normal person who did great things.

 The third book is also written by his niece, Angela Farris Watkins, PhD. and it is My Uncle Martin's Words for America. In this book she tells about the historical side of Dr. King's life. She talks about how his words were powerful because they were about love and nonviolence and freedom. How people listened to him and how his voice made people listen. The story has a personal side being told by his niece, but it also has the facts of what I would like Hazel to hear. 

The final book I am going to share is Happy Birthday, Dr. King! by Kathryn Jones. This book does not tell the story of Martin Luther King, Jr. It however tells the story about Jamal, a fourth grade African American, discovering the true reasons we celebrate Dr. King. Jamal does not understand why his grandfather gets so upset with him when he finds out Jamal was fighting on the bus for the back seat. The note from the principal came home on the night that his assignment was to think about a way for his class to celebrate Dr. King's life. After hearing about his grandfather taking his father to hear Dr. King speak in Montgomery, Alabama after Rosa Parks was arrested, he begins to get why what he did was a slap in the face. The reality of Dr. King's message of love and nonviolence comes through and Jamal comes up with a great plan for the class to do in the school assembly. This book helps put some of Dr. King's messages into our time for children. 
Our Peace Through Love Craft

As we read the books and hear parts of the "I Have a Dream" speech, I began to ask Hazel if she understood the words. It opened up time for us to talk about racism and prejudice. We also are able talk about what does not being judged for the color of your skin really mean and the content of your character mean. At six, I think she is starting to understand a little bit more about the racial tensions that exist although she is always questioning why they exist. I have to say I have trouble explaining why to her since I myself question why all the time. 
Our Diversity Snack

Last year we did some peace through love crafts as well as some diversity crafts and drawings. Two years ago we had a diversity snack. I also have a Civil Rights & MLK Pinterest Board with other ideas I have found. I hope you will check out all the other posts shared in this series. Some people will focus on resources for celebrating the day and others will focus on the day being a day of service.