In 1983, the U.S. Congress declared the third Monday in January an annual federal holiday to honor the life and ideals of Martin Luther King Jr.
Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-1968) was an African-American civil rights leader famous for his nonviolent protests, boycotts, and marches to end racial discrimination. King is best known for his “I Have a Dream” speech, which he delivered in Washington D.C. in 1963. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. Four years later, he was shot and killed in Memphis, Tennessee.
In our home school, when a holiday comes around, we take a break from our regular studies to learn more about the person or event being honored. That generally involves reading a few books, watching a related video, and doing some type of activity, whether an art project or a report.
Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is coming up, and if you’re looking for some ideas for teaching your children about the civil rights leader, this post presents some suggested books, activities, and videos.
A Picture Book of Martin Luther King, Jr. by David Adler
If you aren’t familiar with David Adler’s picture book series, then you really ought to acquaint yourself with it. He writes biographical texts on a child’s level, really drawing readers into the life of that person. Adler’s bio of King is no exception. I love how he weaves in actual quotes from King and personal anecdotes from King’s childhood to make the man come to life. Reading this book will give younger children a good introduction into the intelligent, peace-loving man and what he did for the civil rights movement.
My Uncle Martin’s Big Heart by Angela Farris Watkins
I really enjoyed reading this beautifully illustrated book written by King’s own niece. While Watkins was only 4 when her uncle was killed, she has vivid memories of him scooping her up and holding her in his arms after church services and laughing with her. She recalls how powerful his voice was in grabbing people’s attention; yet, what really stuck out to her was her uncle M.L.’s laughter and sense of humor. Watkins provides many personal insights into the character of King as she remembers him. This is truly a beautiful story.
Belle, the Last Mule at Gee’s Bend: A Civil Rights Story by Calvin Alexander Ramsey
We checked this book out at our library. It’s what I would call a living book because it conveys a story about Martin Luther King, Jr. in a way that really appeals to readers. This book discusses not only King, but also civil rights and race issues in an area known as Gee’s Bend in Alabama. It tells the true story of a mule named Belle who pulled the farm wagon on which King’s casket rested and the determination of the people of Gee’s Bend, who were at one point refused permission to cross the state border. I highly recommend this story.
Who Was Martin Luther King, Jr.? by Bonnie Bader
For children of reading age, I recommend another great biography series. This one is by Bonnie Bader who writes the Who Is/Was? series. This particular book is perfect for writing reports because it is filled with stories about King that are informative as well as interesting. For example, the book starts out with an anecdote about King’s father who is told to go to the back of the shoe store to wait before the salesman would help him. Instead of waiting, though, King’s dad leaves, refusing to accept a system that mistreats people. Thus begins King’s own entrance into nonviolent protesting. Bonus: The illustrations are great.
Arts & Crafts Activities
Get out your paints and glitter glue! While this craft from No Time for Flashcards would be perfect for younger children, the ideas presented are food for thought for any age child — from 3 to 17. From the post:
Before we sat down to create this craft we talked about the world and how there are so many wonderful things in it but that the world also needs help. I encouraged each of them to think about what matters most to their hearts. I added on how real change comes with passion and passion is about more than thinking something is important, it’s about feeling in your heart that something must be done and acting on it. Dr. King’s life can teach so many lessons and the lesson that one person can make a difference is what this is all about.
Helping our children identify ways they can make a difference in the world is a great first step. But then following through and actually implementing specific ideas is even better; that’s exactly what King would have done.
This printable “I Have a Dream” report by Teacher Vision is perfect for 1st through 3rd graders to practice researching a topic. Take it a step further with older students and have them write an actual report.
Here’s another fun craft + poem for young ones from Preschool Daze. The poem is an excerpt from King’s “My Own Two Hands.” There are other cute crafty ideas on this site too.
Your older children can also make a Martin Luther King, Jr. timeline.
Mama’s Learning Corner has an outstanding FREE Martin Luther King, Jr. Unit Study that includes the following:
- Cut & Paste definitions related to civil rights and Dr. King
- Fact Sheet with true/false
- Question & Answer section
- ABC Order
- Fill-in-the-blank with simple answers
- Adjective Brainstorm
- “I Have a Dream” writing prompt
- Notebooking Page – one page in elementary lines and one in plain lines
For more activity ideas, check out Mums Make Lists’ “40 MLK Day Activities.”
Watch Dr. King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech here. You can also find other speeches by Dr. King here.
Also, check out The King Center and History.com for some excellent articles and video clips for your older children.
For these and other Martin Luther King, Jr. ideas, follow my board on Pinterest!
Do you take time out of your regular home school studies to learn more about holidays? What are your favorite resources for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day?