By Ingrid Á. Russell
“Although they cannot understand fully all the facts and complexities of history, young children can learn that many grown-ups have worked, and continue to work to make the world a safe, fair, and good place.” ~ NAEYC
Every year, early childhood programs and schools all around the United States celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday and his legacy. Although some programs have a well-thought-out lesson plan, some programs struggle with what to teach and how to teach it – especially those working with younger children. Fortunately, the lessons exemplified by MLK are so broad that even the youngest of children can learn from him and his life’s work on this special day and throughout the year. In order to ensure that children learn these valuable lessons about kindness, equity, inclusiveness, advocacy, anti-bias, peace/nonviolence, and diversity we want to teach beyond just the “I have a Dream” speech. The biggest value is that these lessons can be taught throughout the year and within the program’s structure and philosophy, daily play experiences of children, and through books, videos and activities.
Below I will share some resources that can be used with the children you serve, no matter their age, when teaching about Martin Luther King, Jr. and the lessons embodied by his work.
I believe that in order to teach about MLK, it’s important to know more about him; therefore, it would be great to think about the following questions when researching and preparing for your lesson(s).
Reflection Questions in Preparation for Teaching
- Who was Martin Luther King, Jr.?
- What did he dedicate his life to and why?
- Why are he and the lessons he taught of value to children?
- What are ways we can teach about MLK and be intentional and purposeful?
- How are we bringing MLK’s work to life in our program?
Once you’ve reflected, you can begin your research. Below are websites for teachers that provide an abundance of resources that help answer the questions above and prepare you to teach about MLK and his lessons of love, kindness, respect, equity, peace/nonviolence… and the list goes on!
Online Resources for Teachers:
Now that you have researched and developed a deeper understanding of MLK and his life’s work; you can start preparing for your lessons.
Resources for Teaching About MLK & his lessons
Infant & Toddlers
Children around this age notice differences in others, including race, but they are still learning about what these differences mean. Therefore, the focus for this age group will be more about MLK’s message of love, kindness, and acknowledging, appreciating and accepting differences and commonalities.
- I am Martin Luther King, Jr. (Ordinary People Change the World) by Brad Meltzer and Christopher Eliopoulos
- An ABC of Equality by Chana Ginelle Ewing
- Inclusive Ninja: An Anti-bullying Children’s Book About Inclusion, Compassion, & Diversity by Mary Nhin and Jelena Stupar
- A is for Activism by Innosanto Nagara
- Counting on Community by Innosanto Nagara
- We are Little Feminists: Hair by Little Feminists
- We’re Different, We’re the Same by Bobbi Jane Kates
- Strictly No Elephants by Lisa Mantchev, Taeeun Yoo
- It’s Okay to Be Different by Todd Parr
- Who? A Celebration of Babies by Robie Harris and Natascha Rosenberg
Children this age are forming biases based on what they hear and see around them. This is a great opportunity for educators to delve a little deeper and learn about MLK and his work, and about how we can all work together to make this world a better place just like MLK. In addition to the books above, you can also use the following:
Martin’s Big Words by Doreen Rappaport
- My Daddy Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by Martin Luther King, III
- Say Something by Peter H. Reynolds
- Child of the Civil Rights Movement by Paula Young Shelton
- Let the Children March by Monica Clark-Robinson and Frank Morrison
- I am Rosa Parks (Ordinary People Change the World) by Brad Meltzer and Christopher Eliopoulos
- A Sweet Smell of Roses by Angela Johnson
- Teach Your Dragon About Diversity by Steve Herman
- Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson and E.B. Lewis
- The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig
- Black is Brown is Tan by Arnold Adoff
Children at this age are able to think more critically about MLK’s approach to advocacy and peaceful protesting as well as the other topics related to MLK: kindness, equity, inclusiveness, advocacy, anti-bias, peace/nonviolence, diversity, etc. Take this opportunity to talk about what they know, what they want to learn, and then reflect on what they’ve learned from the lessons taught. These topics are ongoing since they relate to our daily lives and interactions with others. Here are more books, in addition to those shared above, that you can use for your lessons:
The Story of Martin Luther King Jr.: A Biography Book for New Readers by Christine Platt
- I Have a Dream by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Kadir Nelson
- Martin Luther King, Jr. (Little People, Big Dreams) by Maria Isabel Sanchez Vegara and Mai Ly Degnan
- Who Was Martin Luther King, Jr.? by Bonnie Bader
- Martin Luther King Jr.: A Peaceful Leader by Sarah Albee and Chin Ko
- A Picture Book of Martin Luther King, Jr. by David A. Adler and Robert Casilla
- Listening with My Heart: A story of kindness and self-compassion by Gabi Garcia
- Resist: 35 Profiles of Ordinary People Who Rose Up Against Tyranny and Injustice by Veronica Chambers. Illustrated by Paul Ryding.
- All the Colors We Are: The Story of How We Get Our Skin Color/Todos los colores de nuestra piel: La historia de por qué temenos diferentes colores de piel by Katie Kissinger and Chris Bohnhoff
- Intersection Allies: We Make Room for All by Chelsea Johnson, LaToya Council, Carolyn Choi, and Ashley Seil Smith
- I Am Enough by Grace Byers
- Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson
Overall, I hope that these resources serve you well when learning and teaching about the reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his teachings and messages of love, kindness, advocacy, acceptance, inclusiveness, justice, etc., to children of any age. By using the resources available, you can join in on the celebration and educate children using developmentally appropriate language and activities and expand these lessons to be taught monthly, not just during one day.