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Celebrating Martin Luther King Day with Children

Updated on January 19, 2013
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It happens the third Monday of January every year: the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. This celebration has been a federal holiday since 1983 and it was finally formally recognized as such in all 50 states by 2000. It's a day for celebrating racial diversity and remembering one of the most important leaders of the civil rights era. However, it's a holiday that might require a little thought to present to children as an entertaining option. Here's a couple of ideas of activities you can do with your children to help them appreciate the importance of this special day.

Cover of Martin's Big Words by Doreen Rappaport
Cover of Martin's Big Words by Doreen Rappaport | Source

Share a Book With Them

There are a number of children's books that do a great job of presenting Dr. King's life and accomplishments in terms children can understand. Try some of these:


Martin's Big Words by Doreen Rappaport. Rappaport uses key words from King's own important speeches to explain his actions and impact on the world in ways that children can understand. We learn that Martin hungered for big words by listening to the sermons his father made in church. We follow him from the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott through the march on Washington in 1963, and then to the Nobel Prize in 1964, and every step of the way, we read his words. Bryan Collier's brilliant watercolor paintings are vivid and lifelike. While the book does touch very briefly on King's assassination, but author stresses that King's big words are still alive and important today.

A Sweet Smell of Roses by Angela Johnson. In 1963, two young girls sneak out of their home to join a number of their neighbors as they head for a protest march led by Dr. King. The stark, lifelike black and white line drawings by Eric Velasquez are punctuated on each page with a single stroke of red; this red, symbolizing the hope that King represents amid the despair of segregation and prejudice. This is the "sweet smell of roses" in the title.

Happy Birthday, Martin Luther King by Jean Marzollo. In this simple, straightforward biography, acclaimed children's author Jean Marzollo present the life of Dr. King in language children can understand. While this biography does not go into great detail, it does a good job of introducing younger children to the life and legacy of Dr. King.

There are lots of great books about Martin Luther King at your local library.
There are lots of great books about Martin Luther King at your local library. | Source

Introduce them to his speeches

One of the things Dr. King was known best for was his stirring, inspirational speeches. You can help your children understand his legacy by letting them listen to his words as he said them. Your local library may have recordings of his speeches available on Mp3 or CD. Alternatively, you can go to youtube and view videos such as this one:

I Have a Dream

Take Part in a Service Project

One of the new trends in celebrating Dr. King's life and legacy is the idea that this should be a service day rather than holiday. The Corporation for National and Community Service offers a website, with a searchable database that can help you find suitable service projects in your area. Community leaders can also add their own projects to the database and look for volunteers. Get involved with others in your neighborhood at work to make the world a better place, just as Dr. King did.

Make a Craft

Just for fun, try this easy Brotherhood Wreath. You will need:

  • A paper plate
  • Construction paper in different shades of peach, brown, and black
  • Scissors
  • A pencil
  • Your child's hand
  • Glue
  1. Cut a large round circle out of the very center of a standard paper plate. It will look like a donut.
  2. Trace your child's hand on a piece of peach, brown, or tan paper and cut it out. This will be your template.
  3. Trace around your template, and create at least three hands in different colors of brown, tan, peach, black, or other colors that resemble the natural colors of human skin.
  4. Glue the hands to the paper plate; alternate the different hand colors to show the hands of different colors side by side, working together.

Make a Brotherhood Wreath to celebrate Martin Luther King's birthday.
Make a Brotherhood Wreath to celebrate Martin Luther King's birthday. | Source

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    • Paul Maplesden profile image

      Paul Maplesden 4 years ago from Asheville, NC

      Although not an American myself, I know how important MLK was to American History, Culture and changing people's viewpoints. I think your hub has taken a subject and really expanded upon it, providing lots of interesting perspectives for sharing the principles of this great man with children. A very worthwhile and timely article.

    • KoffeeKlatch Gals profile image

      Susan Haze 4 years ago from Sunny Florida

      He definately was an important man. It was a terrible day when he was taken away from us. Wonderful suggestions on how to introduce children to this great man.

    • Nadine May profile image

      Nadine May 3 years ago from Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa

      Congratulations on your featured hub. Loved reading your hub on Martin Luther King. He will always be remembered like Nelson Mandela will

    • amiebutchko profile image

      Amie Butchko 3 years ago from Warwick, NY

      Great hub and great way to commemorate a special day. Often, the true spirit of a school holiday can get lost in the shuffle. I will certainly remember to celebrate this day with my children, underlining the importance of racial diversity and remembering this great leader - something he deserves so well.

    • WiccanSage profile image

      Mackenzie Sage Wright 3 years ago

      Very nice craft, looks cute. Great hub, and congrats on winning Hub Of The Day. What a great opportunity to teach kids a little bit about history.

    • suzettenaples profile image

      Suzette Walker 3 years ago from Taos, NM

      I love your idea of a Brotherhood Wreath! Congratulations on HOTD! This is a great hub and remembrance of MLK, Jr.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Isaac Weithers 3 years ago from The Caribbean

      Congratulations on your HOTD accolade. Very practical suggestions reflecting the true spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Voted Up!

    • profile image

      Emunah 3 years ago

      Thanks For the beautiful Article!

    • Billie Kelpin profile image

      Billie Kelpin 3 years ago from Newport Beach

      At the risk of being tagged as "overly promotional" by hubpages, I'd like to add the Fill-in-the-Blank 'I Have a Dream Speech' activity that I created on our website many years ago. As all of us on hubpages, I am in love with words and there was no one who could craft more soul-touching metaphorical meaningful language than Dr. King - to say nothing about his ability to move an entire nation toward monumental social change. Here's the link: http://www.languagerocks.com/-i-have-a-dream--spee... - Hope this will add to your important hub!

    • profile image

      Kathy Carr 3 years ago

      Well crafted Hub. Good job on HOTD!

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