Scratch Art for Martin Luther King Jr. Day Activity

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Updated on Jul 2, 2013

On August 28, 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King stood in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., and electrified our nation with his words. Today, decades later, they are as challenging and inspiring as ever. This year on Martin Luther King Day, help your third grader understand that this is not just another fun day off school; it’s a time to honor a legacy. Here’s an art and writing project that can help bring it home. And any time of year, it’s a beautiful art project to celebrate any person who has made a difference in your child’s life, and helped find rainbows behind an obscuring cloud.

What You Need:

  • Black tempera paint with paintbrush
  • Crayons in a rainbow of colors
  • Drop of dish soap
  • Sharp point, such as the tine of a fork, or the end of an embroidery needle

What You Do:

  1. Start by folding the card stock paper in half horizontally (the “hamburger” way, final dimensions 5-1/2”x8-1/2”). Then color the entire front surface with crayons in all colors, making a random rainbow design with no white showing.
  2. Add a drop of liquid dish soap to a dollop of black tempera paint (the dish soap will help the paint “stick” to the waxy crayon layer), and paint over the crayon to cover it completely.
  3. Let the card surface dry fully. While you and your child are waiting, take a few minutes to read about King and his life, whether online or in one of the outstanding books that has been published for children. Consider his famous words—they are jammed with profound concepts for third graders and for Americans of any age—“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed—we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”
  4. King truly challenged our nation to see beyond its flat clouds of prejudice and appreciate the rainbow qualities of “all of God’s children—black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics.” Ask your child: who has really reached out to you and seen the rainbow inside you? This is a card to say thanks, in memory of Dr. King.
  5. By now the paint layer should be dry. Have your child use a sharp pointed object, such as the tine of a fork or the point of an embroidery needle, to scratch out a picture of this person, or an image of something important that your child has shared with him or her. Perhaps, for example, your child wants to honor a teacher. She might draw the teacher’s portrait; or perhaps a set of books or alphabet letters as a reminder of what this teacher has brought to your child’s life.
  6. Inside, have your child write a full thank you. Maybe she’ll be thanking an inspiring teacher; maybe a spiritual leader; maybe a special relative or friend. Whoever your child chooses, make sure the letter is clear and detailed…and above all, make sure you send it. Dr. King may have been assassinated in 1968, but cards like this one give witness: his words are alive and well.
Julie Williams, M.A. Education, taught middle and high school History and English for seventeen years. Since then, she has volunteered in elementary classrooms while raising her two sons and earning a master's in school administration. She has also been a leader in her local PTA.

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