The legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. is foundational to modern America, and something we still celebrate and remember annually on the third of January of every year (this year, it will fall on January 17). It’s a day for all Americans to reflect on the struggle of the Civil Rights Movement, and how we continue to strive for Dr. King’s vision of the country. Exposing your kids to values of equality and respect for others is important, no matter how young they are. Even if your kids are preschoolers, there are some fun activities and other ways to introduce them to the importance of Martin Luther King Jr Day.
What Does Martin Luther King Jr. Day Honor?
When broaching Martin Luther King Jr. Day activities with your preschoolers, it is important to have a basic understanding of who Martin Luther King, Jr. was. Keep it simple. Dr. King was a Baptist minister and civil rights activist from Atlanta, Georgia, who spent his life protesting racial inequality and poverty and the structures that created them (and also the Vietnam War).
Organizing several of the most famous protest movements in American history—the Montgomery bus boycott, the 1963 March on Washington, the Selma-to-Montgomery marches, and the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign that occurred after his assassination—Martin Luther King Jr. was arguably the most prominent leader of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s.
Dr. King envisioned a world where his children would not be judged by the color of their skin, but by their intrinsic value as human beings. He was arguably responsible for some of the most meaningful civil rights legislation in the U.S., including the Voting Rights Act, the Civil Rights Acts of 1957, 1960, and 1965, the Fair Housing Act, and the 24th Amendment.
Our country is what it is today because individuals like Dr. King fought for freedom and equality. Indeed, the U.S. has a number of special holidays on the calendar year to honor those who made a difference to our country, be it our veterans, our presidents, or our Civil Rights leaders. While some of the activities and concepts core to Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy are more complex, the basics of his beliefs are important for every American to learn and cherish, even as preschoolers.
Martin Luther King Jr. Day Activities for Preschoolers
While preschoolers are young and some of the concepts may be hard to grasp, no one understands equality quite like a child. Many children are instinctively interested in making things fair and equal. As such, the basics of MLK’s beliefs may come naturally to them! In any case, here are some fun activities you and your preschoolers can do to introduce them to and enrich their knowledge of Martin Luther King Jr.’s beliefs.
Book Reading Session
Dr. King’s “I Have A Dream” speech is arguably one of the most famous in modern history, and that opening line tells you why. At the heart of King’s philosophy is a belief that a better world is possible. A wide range of books have been written about MLK, from critical dissertations to picture books—but you should probably start with the picture books for your kids! Here are some great options to consider:
- A Picture Book of Martin Luther King, Jr. (Picture Book Biography)
- Martin's Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (A Big Words Book, 1)
- The Story of Martin Luther King Jr.: A Biography Book for New Readers
- I Am Martin Luther King, Jr. (Ordinary People Change the World)
- I Have a Dream (Book & CD)
A great way to introduce Martin Luther King Jr. to your preschoolers is with arts and crafts activities. Have your kids work on a mural together—lay out some paper and paints, and let them build a group masterpiece. This teaches them about the importance of both individual talents and bringing those individual talents to work together in a community. It’s only by bringing all our talents to work together that we can make a grand piece of art!
“Is It Fair?” Lego Game
Martin Luther King Jr fought for the free and fair treatment of all people, regardless of who they are. This “Is It Fair?” Lego activity is a powerful, simple way to introduce the concept of fair play to your kids.
Sit your kids down in a circle, with the adult participating. Empty a tub of Legos in the middle of this circle (make sure there are only a handful of red Legos). Divide the children into two groups. The members in the first group get blue dots on their hands, and the members in the second group receive red dots on their hands. Everyone with a blue dot can play with any Lego they would like, but kids with a red dot can only play with red Legos.
This is such a powerful way to show kids practically what discrimination looks like and how easy it is to enforce. It also allows them to experience, in a safe environment, the feelings associated with acts of discrimination.
Multicultural Rainbow Hand Tracing
Cut a large arc shape from a piece of white poster board. Then let your kids dip their hands into a spectrum of flesh-toned paints and place their handprints all over the arc. When it dries help your kids to cut out pictures of people from magazines (young and old, black and white, happy and sad, from different cultures, etc.) and glue them onto the handprints.
Use this activity to discuss how people come from all different cultures and races. Focus on some of the interesting and amazing things from these cultures. This will instill respect and admiration for other cultures in your kids.
“I Have A Dream!” Craft
As mentioned earlier, this special holiday is a great time to incorporate lessons on dreams and goals! Make vision boards to teach your kids about embracing planning, dreams, goals, and aspirations.
Your or your babysitter can guide your kids through this activity of creating and decorating a vision or dream board. When they’re done, they can present their vision and dream boards to you and talk through their ideas. You can spend some time going through the goals and dreams and help them take these to the next level. Dreams for themselves may have legs to become dreams for their school, community, or family. Learning to think bigger and think further helps them to grow into their future potential!
Bring the Message Home With These Cool Ideas
Martin Luther King Jr. Day honors a figure and a movement critical to shaping our modern world. It can, however, sometimes be difficult to explain the intricacies of Dr. King's legacy to kids, especially young ones. Hopefully, these ideas will help.
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