Talk to Your Kids About Martin

Why you should teach your children about Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

Teach Your Kids About Martin

Ways the whole family can observe Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday

-Myrna Blyth and Chriss Winston

Martin Luther King, Jr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday will be observed next Monday. There are lots of ways you and your kids could make this holiday as special as it should be. Each year this holiday is observed on the third Monday in January around the time of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday, which is January 15. After King’s death in 1968, a bill was introduced in Congress to make King’s birthday a national holiday. An important supporter of the holiday was musician Stevie Wonder who released a single called “Happy Birthday” to popularize the idea. Six million signatures were collected on a petition asking Congress to pass the bill, which was the largest petition in favor of an issue in U.S. history. In 1983, President Reagan signed a bill creating a federal holiday to honor the great civil rights leader who changed America.


Here are some Facts About Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and His Holiday:

• He went to Morehouse College when he was only 15 years old.

• He got a Ph.D. from Boston University and met his wife, Coretta, in Boston.

• He was the first African American to be on the cover of Time Magazine.

• He was the youngest man to win the Nobel Prize.

• On January 17, 2001, for the first time, Martin Luther King Day was officially observed in all 50 U.S. states.

Most schools will mark Dr. King’s birthday with programs, projects or a day off, but here are some suggestions for other ways you can help your children understand the importance of Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday and his importance to America.

1. Have your child read a book about Martin Luther King Jr. or other leaders of the Civil Rights Movement. Here are some we recommend:

• Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Martin Luther King (Jump at the Sun) by Doreen Rapaport, ages 4-8.

• A Picture Book of Martin Luther King by David Adler (Holiday House), ages 4-8.

• I Have a Dream by Margaret Davidson (Scholastic Paperback), ages 9-12.

• If You Lived at the Time of Martin Luther King by Ellen Levine, (Scholastic), ages 9-12.

• Rosa Parks: My Story by Rosa Parks, (Dial Books), ages 8-10.

• Frederick Douglass: A Picture Book by David Adler (Holiday House), ages 4-8.

2. The web site has several printable books about Dr. King including one called “I Have A Dream” which describes his dream of equality for all. It encourages kids to write about a personal dream they have that would improve the world and how they would make their dream come true.

3. Watch a DVD about Martin Luther King, Jr. Some suggestions: Biography: Martin Luther King, The Man and the Dream (A& E DVD Archives). Or do a little time traveling in an animated adventure called Our Friend Martin, starring Ed Asner and Levar Burton. (20th Century Fox)

4. On his actual birthday, take your kids on a Web tour of the most important sites of the civil rights movement. You will find a guided tour on the National Park Service web site, “We Shall Overcome: Historic Places of the Civil Rights Movement” at

5. We’ve already noted that Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have A Dream” is one of the most important speeches in American history. You and the kids can listen to it on the History Channel at as well as Robert Kennedy’s sad announcement of Dr. King’s death. Ask them why they think the speech is so powerful and had such an impact on America?

6. Dr. King’s life was one service to others. Make his birthday a day of service for your family by volunteering at a local organization that is involved in helping others. In fact National Service Day this year is on the day his birthday is being celebrated. Many areas also have special events around Dr. King’s birthday that emphasize tolerance, diversity and understanding. Check your local newspapers.

Myrna Blyth and Chriss Winston are the authors of How to Raise an American (Crown Forum.)

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