First graders are learning how to get along with different types of people. Celebrating Martin Luther King Day is a terrific way to begin a discussion on compassion, equality, and fairness. It’s also a great excuse to show how just one person can make a difference in the world, and teach kids that they can be that person! This hands-on activity gets kids brainstorming about what needs change in the world, and how they can help.
What You Do:
- Discuss with your child the significance of Martin Luther King Day. Explain to him that Dr. King was treated unfairly when he was a young boy because he was an African American. Back in those days, there were even laws that said that if you were African American, and you had brown skin, you couldn’t sit at the same restaurants as white people and you couldn’t drink from the same water fountains, or anything! We call this kind of attitude prejudice. When Dr. King grew up, he worked hard to change people's ideas about race. He wanted people to understand that everyone should be treated equally, regardless of what they looked like. Dr. King wrote one of the most famous speeches in history, called “I Have a Dream,” that talked about his dream that one day in the near future, all people would respect and care for one another and that “children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” Each January we celebrate Martin Luther King's Birthday to remember his dream.
- Talk to your child about Martin Luther King’s dream and the fact that one man managed to help change a whole country. Ask your child what he thinks is unfair, and what he thinks he can do to change it. If he could change big things in the world, what would they be?
- Have your child trace the outline of his hand on an array of construction paper in different rainbow colors. Help him cut out each hand shape, then glue them onto the poster board. Now brainstorm things that your child believes need change in the world, and ways that he and your family can help. Few individuals will get the chance to speak before thousands of people at the Lincoln Memorial like Martin Luther King, Jr., but there are things your child can do to make a difference! Perhaps it’s collecting cans for a local food bank to help the hungry, or running a car wash to raise money for the homeless. Perhaps it’s bringing entertainment to cancer patients at a local hospital or sending care packages to soldiers abroad. On each hand, write one thing that your child dreams of changing, like “Hunger” or “Homelessness”, then a few sentences about what he can do to help.
Not only will this project get your child thinking about Martin Luther King, Jr., but it will encourage him to explore what he can do to make the world a better place. It’s never too young to start making a difference. And a few years down the road, this poster will serve as a great reminder of what your first grader found important enough to tackle, full steam ahead.
Sally is an experienced educator, with over 14 years of teaching experience. In addition to teaching, she has also created educational materials, including ancillary, textbook, and test items, for Grades K-8 for major educational publishers.