Every year around this time we remember Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the meaningful change he made in the world. We celebrate his courage and honor his unwavering devotion to civil rights. This is also a great opportunity to teach our children about his contributions. Take advantage of your free time on Monday. Here are some ways to celebrate MLK, and his message, with the whole family.

1. Read about him.

No matter your child’s age or reading level, books can teach them about Dr. King and his contributions. Scholastic actually has lists of picture books, early readers and books for tweens and older. Check out your local library or bookstore for other recommendations. If you’re reading the book to your children, or they’re reading it alone, be sure to discuss the lessons he taught.

2. Watch his speeches and discuss.

One of the best things about the internet is the wide variety of historical videos for students of any age. Look up Dr. King’s speeches and watch as many as you like. Encourage your children to use empathy and understanding to put themselves in the shoes of children who watched these speeches live in the 1960s. How would they have felt? What might they have thought?  

3. Write about your own dreams.

Dr. King’s most well-known speech was the “I Have A Dream” speech he gave in front of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963. Watch the entire speech with your children. Then encourage them to write a paragraph or two about their own dreams. This could lead to important and enlightening family discussions afterward.

4. Volunteer for a worthy cause.

When busy families have a day off, it’s hard to resist the urge to sleep in and relax around the house all day. On MLK Day it might be nice to spend a portion of that day, even if just a few hours, volunteering with the whole family. There are ways to serve undervalued neighborhoods and communities in need. You can live the values of MLK and provide a great example for your kids.

5. Visit art shows with similar themes.

Most communities, cities or towns have art shows dedicated to MLK around the celebration of his day. Murals, gallery showings and exhibits about Dr. King specifically or the civil rights movement in general. Be sure to ask about student discounts.

6. Visit MLK memorials together.

If you’re lucky enough to live near MLK memorials, this long weekend is a good time to visit them. Such memorials exist in places like Washington D.C., Atlanta, Birmingham, Los Angeles and so many other places. Do some research in your area. You might be surprised to find a memorial in need of visiting!

7. Organize a street cleanup.

Many towns have streets that get “adopted” by organizations who keep them clean and free of litter. In that same vein, many towns have streets dedicated to MLK. They’re often in some of the more undervalued areas. One way to celebrate MLK Day with the whole family is to put a cleaning crew together and clean a mile or two around a street dedicated to his memory.

8. Watch family-friendly movies.

Check out this list of movies that discuss civil rights and/or Dr. King himself for all ages.

9. Utilize free, online resources for younger kids.

If your children are too young to grasp the significance of Dr. King’s contributions, you can still introduce them to the concepts. For example, print out an activity book for them to color.

10. Practice public speaking.

Print out one of Dr. King’s famous speeches and encourage your children to implement their own words. What are their hopes for the future? What are some ways we can make the world better for those in need? Then they can give those new versions of speeches in front of the family to practice public speaking.

11. Create a timeline.

Have your children make an illustrated timeline to hang on the refrigerator. They can use markers and construction paper. Visit online historical sites (or look below) for ideas and accomplishments.

12. Get crafty.

Look up some iconic symbols for love and peace used during Dr. King’s day to create artwork for your home. They can also be used as decorations in years to come.

13. Organize a local gathering.

In the true spirit of Dr. King, get people together for a peace parade in your neighborhood. This includes decorated bikes and scooters as well as placards with slogans on them. This also might be a great way for kids to practice some of those speeches and public speaking.

14. Write an article or op-ed for the local paper.

Do you have some young writers or budding journalists in your family? Get them to write to local papers or magazines with their own thoughts about how to continue Dr. King’s legacy today.

Important facts about MLK Day:

  • Martin Luther King Jr. Day was established by the U.S. government to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
  • Dr. King was born on Jan. 15, 1929.
  • The official federal holiday was created 15 years after Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968.
  • This took a fight, a petition with more than 6 million signatures submitted to Congress and years of advocacy.
  • Illinois was the first state to commemorate MLK Day as a state holiday in 1973.
  • Utah was the last state to do so, in 2000.
  • Martin Luther King Jr. dedicated his life to equal rights for black and white citizens in the 1950s and 1960s. This included the right to work, vote, use public places and receive a good education.
  • Read more about his civil rights achievements such as the 1963 March on Washington, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and his Nobel Peace Prize award.

At the end of the day

Give your children this online quiz to see what they’ve learned. You might even want to reward the winner with a special prize or privilege.

Kids learn best from experiences. Celebrate MLK Day with the whole family in a way that encourages them to keep his legacy alive.


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