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Martin Luther King Jr. would have turned 90 on January 15, 2019. Many grade-schoolers celebrate MLK Day with activities in class, but you may wonder how to honor King's legacy with younger children. Educator Rukia Rogers, founder of The Highlander School, a preschool in King's hometown of Atlanta, suggests four engaging and age-appropriate ways to share the work of the U.S. civil rights leader with preschoolers.
- Celebrate the holiday in ways kids can relate to. Children love a good birthday party! Your party might include making cards or decorations focused on peace. The Highlander School's birthday celebration for King features live music, dancers, and storytelling to support kids' creative expression. "The children understand and can relate because we have birthday celebrations for each child in our school community," Rogers says.
- Choose age-appropriate books. Rogers recommends the following books about King:
- Toddlers and younger preschoolers: The Story of Martin Luther King Jr., by Johnny Ray Moore. This book explains the concept of injustice from a child's perspective.
- Older preschoolers and early elementary kids: Martin Luther King Jr.: A Peaceful Leader, by Sarah Albee. This biography is a popular Level 2 "I Can Read" book.
- All ages: I Have a Dream, illustrated by Kadir Nelson. The imagery and size of this book make a beautiful presentation during story time. It also comes with a CD of the original speech King delivered during the March on Washington in 1963.
- Help kids understand and respect differences. Adults are sometimes unsure how to respond when preschoolers ask questions about skin color and other physical differences. But embarrassment or silence may give curious kids the idea that the topic is off-limits. At The Highlander School, kids draw self-portraits and portraits of their families then discuss differences in features, hair, and skin. "By bringing awareness to our differences and talking about them, we normalize our differences, and the children learn to respect them," Rogers says.
- Empower kids to use their voices and take action. Involve your child in causes that are important to you. For example, you and your preschooler can donate food to a local food pantry, color signs to take to marches, or write letters to lawmakers about the issues in your community.
Rogers also encourages families to talk about challenging topics in an age-appropriate way. "Many parents will try to protect their children from thinking about the injustices that still exist today," she says. "But what we know about children is that they are resilient and have grit. We believe the best way to create a more just society is to start with children."