Martin Luther King Jr. Day is not just a time for reflection on the civil rights leader’s legacy. It is also a day of service in remembrance of his call to action to help others. To help families celebrate MLK Day, a federal holiday observed the third Monday of January, and teach children the value of his message, we’ve complied some suggestions.
Learn about MLK
There’s many great books and videos to help children of all ages, on their own and with parental guidance, learn more about King’s life and dedication to combat racism and inequality.
BrainPOP, an online educational resource for children, offers for free animated videos and related educational materials:
- For children in grades K through three, the six-minute video on King is accompanied by quizzes and links to age-appropriate videos on other important figures in Black history.
- For children in grade four through eight, this video also comes with links to historic newspaper articles and extra reading material on King’s accomplishments.
- BrainPop also offers a short animated summation of civil rights history in the United States aimed at older children.
If your kids don’t need animation, Free School offers a nice six-minute bio of King’s life and work.
And, of course, you can hear and watch King’s famous “I Have a Dream Speech” together.
Younger children will enjoy My Daddy, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., written by his son, Martin Luther King III, and illustrated by A.G Ford. It offers a glimpse into the family life of a crucial figure in this nation’s history.
Let the Children March is a multi-award winning picture book by Monica Clark-Robinson with illustrations by Frank Morrison about African American children who to march for civil rights in Alabama after listening to King speak.
Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Martin Luther King, Jr., written by Doreen Rappaport and illustrated by Bryan Collier, puts the civil rights leader’s words in context. It adds additional straightforward text and powerful images.
Mature tweens and teens may like the graphic novel March: Book One by the late civil rights pioneer and U.S. Rep. John Lewis and Andrew Aydin with illustrations by Nate Powell. Starting with Lewis’ upbringing in Alabama, the 128-page book covers his life-changing meeting with King, and its influence on his efforts to bring about racial justice and fairness.
Volunteer, serve to celebrate MLK Day
If you celebrate MLK Day by volunteering to help others in some way, you are following one of King’s sagest pieces of wisdom. “Everybody can be great … because anybody can serve,” King said. “You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.” AmeriCorps, an independent agency of the U.S. government focused on service, suggests several ways to the whole family can volunteer to celebrate MLK Day, such as:
- Bringing meals to homebound neighbors
- Organizing a food donation drive to benefit a local food pantry
- Create community green spaces by planting trees, grass, and flowers, especially in locations that may lack adequate green space
- Clean up a park or abandoned space
- Shovel elderly neighbors’ walkways, clear leaves or help with other yard maintenance
Points of Light, an international nonprofit dedicated to engaging people and resources in solving social problems through voluntary service, offers several resources to help you celebrate MLK Day through education and activity, including several DIY projects families can undertake.
Other ideas include:
- Build a Little Free Library for your neighborhood.
- Write greeting cards or letters to cheer deployed military personnel through Soldier Angel, or to isolated senior citizens through Letters Against Isolation.
- Organize a clothing donation drive to benefit a local shelter