Celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Day with kids

Martin Luther King Jr. Day provides an opportunity to teach children about the civil rights movement, racial equity, and Black history. While older students will have an easier time understanding the complexity of the civil rights movement, everyone can learn about the importance of respect and kindness. Here are a few ways to introduce learners of all ages to MLK Jr. and empower them to put his messages into action.

Learn about Martin Luther King Jr. 

Spend some time talking to students about why we observe Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Learn about who he was, the work he did, and the message he stood for. Check out these engaging worksheets for introducing children to Dr. King: 

  • Martin Luther King Jr. and His Dream: Designed for preschoolers through first graders, this activity will introduce kids to MLK Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech and encourage learners to illustrate their own dream for a brighter future. 
  • Cut-and-Paste Timeline: Students will learn about Martin Luther King Jr.’s life work and use a timeline to put historical events in order.
  • Who Was Martin Luther King Jr.?: Fourth and fifth graders will read Dr. King’s biography before reflecting on his message through this writing activity. 

Additionally, use this time to introduce children to other important Black changemakers! Extend your learning of notable Black leaders with this poster or these playing cards.

Embrace diversity

Beyond the famous “I Have a Dream” speech, students also need to understand the greater messages that civil rights activists like MLK Jr. were trying to convey. While many people shy away from having serious conversations about racism with children, research has shown that kids who are informed about race and differences are more inclusive. Use these age-appropriate activities to start the conversation about diversity and inclusion:

  • Appreciating Diversity: This lesson plan helps younger kids explore what inclusivity looks like. 
  • You Are Not Alone: Children will be asked to reflect on the importance of diversity and brainstorm ideas to help those who feel left out in this social-emotional activity.
  • My Family Heritage: This worksheet will help younger learners develop social awareness and an appreciation of diversity.
  • Understanding Communities and Differences: Perfect for upper elementary students, this lesson plan helps kids recognize their biases and discusses how to practice empathy.

Go beyond the holiday 

Martin Luther King Jr.’s life work still applies to our everyday lives, and conversations about his message should not be limited to just one day. Continually educate yourself and your students about both the ongoing discrimination faced by the Black community and the impact Black activists continue to make. Don’t forget: Black history is American history. Check out our roundup of helpful resources to honor Black history with young learners year-round!