Discovering the Dream: Teaching Kids About Martin Luther King, Jr.

Next week is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. His inspiring leadership during the Civil Rights Movement may come from an era that seems far away to your child, but the holiday provides an excellent opportunity to help him or her discover more about Dr. King and his legacy.

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Beginning with the Speech

The 'I Have a Dream' speech took place in 1963 on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. It's not only one the most iconic moments of Dr. King's life and the Civil Rights Movement, but also of the entire 20th century. Reading a transcript of the speech or, more electrifying, watching a video of it, your child will get a glimpse into the passion, leadership and importance of Dr. King.

Yet watching the speech without context, especially for a child that hasn't studied the Civil Rights movement, may be confusing. There are numerous documentaries, articles and other sources that can provide more background on the speech, which was the culmination of the March on Washington. Perhaps the best and most comprehensive is Eyes on the Prize, a 14-hour documentary that can be viewed in part or as an exhaustive whole.

Create a Reading List

There are numerous books your child can read in order to learn more about Dr. King, with many different titles for all ages. For very young children, there are picture books that tell his life story, including My Dream of Martin Luther King by Faith Ringgold and Martin's Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by Doreen Rappaport.

Older children may enjoy a more substantive biography. For example, there's Amy Pastan's Martin Luther King, Jr., which includes a plethora of illustrations and photographs. There are also books that provide useful context for the Civil Rights Movement, including ...If You Lived at the Time of Martin Luther King by Ellen Levine.

Taking a Hands-On Approach

Once your child has begun studying Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement, you can progress to activities that involve independent research and deeper learning. For example, your child can create a map or timeline of Dr. King's life. This can include significant moments from his biography, such as the Montgomery bus boycott, Dr. King's jailing in Birmingham and his winning of the Nobel Peace Prize. One creative and hands-on way to create a timeline is to use a clothesline, marking events using clothespins.

You can also challenge your child to write his or her own 'I Have a Dream' speech. This should begin with a discussion of the speech and its structure. Your child can then brainstorm what positive changes he or she would like to see in the world. Finally, this list can be transformed into a speech or essay that describes a vision for a better society.

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