It's Martin Luther King Day. Tell Your Kids What That Means.
Good morning, and welcome to Martin Luther King Day!
Hi, Dr. King. (Image Source)
Now, maybe you've done your parenting and social-justice-teaching homework, and your kids already know all about Dr. King, his legacy, and his sacrifice. If so, great! That's fantastic! I'm so pleased that you and your family can reflect on who this day honors and the great work he did. Perhaps you are even doing great work today during this designated day of service. I hope so. I hope you are doing both things.
But, if you're anything like I was last year, you're not doing either of these things. If you're like I was last year, you're horrified at having forgotten that MLK day was even coming, still exhausted from an endless holiday and discombobulated by the return to school and work routine. Perhaps, like I did 365-odd days ago, you're horrified at learning that your first grader didn't even talk about MLK in school that year and can't remember who he is.*
If so, here are some quick resources you can use to teach your kids about Martin Luther King, Jr. on this day, set aside to honor him.
We love this book in our house. I bought it last year, after our "Who is Dr. King?" debacle. I suggest you run out to the library right now and find a copy....
HAHAHAHAHAHA! It's a federal holiday! YOU CAN'T! But here's a great video read aloud of the book. Enjoy it with your kids!
Don't have it already? Don't worry. Technology to the rescue!
3. Reading Rainbow Story Time, A Picture Book of Martin Luther King, Jr.
This isn't my favorite picture book about Martin Luther King, Jr., but it is my favorite reader: LeVar Burton!***
Now, picture books are great. But this is a day that honors a great orator. It would be criminal not to hear Dr. King speak when his speeches form the capstone of his legacy.
Here we have a short video outlining abuses against protesters during the Civil Rights Movement, the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, and Dr. King's culminating speech at that march. It doesn't include the full text of the speech, which my kids couldn't sit still through anyway, but it does include the speech's stirring "free at last" finale. Also, it's a great visual introduction to what a march is if you and yours are joining one of the women's marches next weekend.
This video has no set-up or narration whatsoever, so you'll either need to preface it with the History clip above or your own introduction. What it does contain, however, are great shots of the crowd at the March on Washington and a longer portion of King's speech. I like it because it shows the magnitude of the attendance at the March and the ecstatic reactions of the people listening to King's speech.
This video also includes people singing "We Shall Overcome." When I was a teaching assistant in a 2nd grade classroom, we taught the kids this song for a MLK Day celebration. If you're at all musically inclined, or you'd like to include music in your discussion of today's significance, this is the song to learn. And Mahalia Jackson's performance is the one to teach it.
I'm taking a risk in including this movie here, because we haven't watched it yet. But we are going to watch it tonight, as it's been recommended to me as a good kids' movie and a good kid-level introduction to the Civil Rights movement. That my older daughter is newly obsessed with American Girl culture, and this is an American Girl movie, is just a bonus. I hope it's as good as it looks (and it looks really good)!
So, there you go, friends. Instant Dr. King/Civil Rights curriculum appropriate for littles and pleasing to grown-ups (just add internet!). I hope you have a reflective, active, and meaningful MLK day. And I hope the spirit of the day stays with you the rest of the year, as well.
*Granted, I am relying on a first-grader's self-reporting here. Perhaps they had a thoughtful discussion all about justice, freedom for all, and Martin Luther King and my Smartling was just too busy drawing Anna and Elsa. Entirely possible.
** I highly recommend all of the "Ordinary People Change the World" books by Brad Meltzer and Christopher Eliopoulos. We've read "I Am Jackie Robinson" to shreds.
*** A day without LeVar Burton is a day without sunshine, and that's just the truth.