Every year on the third Monday in January, the nation observes Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday. For many, the day is an opportunity to honor the civil rights leader’s legacy with community service, parades and other celebrations. Since January 1986, when the first national Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day was observed, various commemorative themes have emerged based on his inspirational messages and speeches.
One of the most notable was the 1957 speech Dr. King delivered in Montgomery, Ala., when he said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: What are you doing for others?”
In cultivating a spirit of service, Congress designated the holiday as a national day of service in 1994. Since then, the slogan “A Day On, Not a Day Off” has fulfilled one of Dr. King’s dreams for America. Today, many nonprofits, community associations, companies, organizations and universities observe the holiday by volunteering in their local communities.
Leading up to the holiday, K-12 students learn about discrimination, segregation, equity and other critical issues that led to the civil rights movement. For preschoolers, these can be very complex concepts. So what can teachers, providers, parents and families do to help the little ones understand and commemorate this momentous occasion?
Experts recommend that educators “consider the developmental levels of the children they are teaching as guidance in planning instruction about the Civil Rights Movement since aspects of emotional, social, cognitive and moral development are important in organizing effective instruction.”
“In order to create harmonious relationships with people of diverse races, ethnicities and cultures, children must be able to form friendship bonds with others and care about forming those relationships. Likewise, kindergarteners are at an age when they are becoming increasingly sympathetic and better able to understand others’ minds and emotions,” said co-authors Janet E. Foster, Tonja L. Root and Seungyoun Lee, who published Teaching Young Children about the Civil Rights Movement: Applying Effective & Developmentally Appropriate Strategies.
Below are the top five educational and activity websites to help young children have fun, early learning experiences on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday.
- PBS Kids Learning Media brings the world to the classroom by offering curated FREE, standards-aligned videos, interactives, lesson plans and more for teachers. PBS provides an overview of Martin Luther King Jr. Day on YouTube.
- The National Association for the Education of Young Children, a professional organization that promotes high-quality early learning for children from birth through age 8, connects social justice activities to young children’s own experiences.
- WeAreTeachers, an online media brand for educators, highlights various activities for all ages. For young children, check out the book, puzzle and art recommendations.
- Pre-K Pages, a website developed by Vanessa Levin, an early childhood teacher, consultant and author, has gathered a collection of ideas that focus on Dr. King’s legacy.
- With its 3 million members working in education from preschool to graduate school, the National Education Association has developed resources for K-9 students. The resources include lesson plans that can be easily adapted for young children.