Do’s and Don’ts for Celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day with Young Children.

Do’s and Don’ts for celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day with young children.


Do anti-bias education even when it seems intimidating or daunting. This list will help.

Don’t let hurt feelings get in your way as you read this list. Some actions come from good intentions but have negative impacts. This list includes a few of those. You may feel defensive or upset to read critique about something you’ve done or planned. Take a deep breath and keep moving forward; this work is crucial.

Don’t promote the idea that racism and prejudice only happened in the past.

Do give examples of current civil rights movements and activists. There are current social justice movements happening right now such as Black Lives Matter that are relevant to children’s lives right now.

Don’t sugarcoat discussions about unfairness. It’s common to use animals, colors, or inanimate objects to discuss diversity because we think this helps children understand a big concept. Mostly it alleviates adult discomfort about discussing racism and prejudice and the harm they cause. Young children learn best through concrete experience, so use relatable examples and avoid speaking symbolically.

Do offer accurate information and experiences for children to explore the 4 goals of Anti-bias education.

Throughout the Year

Do highlight other people who worked and still do work for social justice, especially Black women.

Don’t instill the idea that Dr. Martin Luther King was the only leader or person working towards racial equity. Just like Rosa Parks, Dr. King didn’t just happen to change minds and hearts, he worked strategically within disciplined organizations of courageous and skillful people.

Do model and incorporate anti-bias skills throughout the year. The second two anti-bias education goals are often the least taught and the most relevant to Dr. Martin Luther King’s legacy; identifying bias and taking action.

Don’t just discuss, read books, do activities about Dr. Martin Luther King only in January.

Do learn and grow each year in your own understanding of bias, the history of race and civil rights in the United States. To teach about Dr. King and the struggle for civil rights, learn about them. Read some of Dr. King’s essays and books.


Do research on Dr. Martin Luther King, the civil rights movement of the past and the present.

Don’t celebrate or discuss the holiday with children without accurate and relevant background knowledge about the civil rights era (50’s – the early 70’s) and Dr. Martin Luther King.

Do reflect on racial justice as it applies to your current work with children.

Do celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King’s friends, family and colleagues.

Do practice telling this story and talking about racism with friends and colleagues before you try for the first time with children. Ask for feedback.

Do prepare yourself to make mistakes, knowing it’s part of your work as an educator. Be accountable to them and use them to grow in your abilities.


Do acknowledge Dr. King’s race because it’s relevant to his work advocating for racial equity.

Don’t point out that Martin Luther King was Black like a particular child or staff member in your program. Teachers do this to support Black children’s racial identity and align the Black child with someone “everyone” admires. This seems great but it “others” the Black child because it’s rare that white children have this experience.

Do talk about human skin color and the bias against dark skin and Black people/people of African decent.

Don’t plan to tell this story once and not have it come up again.

Don’t promote the idea that he marched just so everyone could be friends and get along.

Don’t do activities or make crafts that only promote friendship. Dr. Martin Luther King and others were fighting against systematic racism and white supremacy, not an inability to make friends. Eliminating racism on all levels will promote more healthy cross-racial relationships.

Do incorporate a variety of media; get books from the library, make or find a playlist of justice oriented songs of the time, listen to radio stories or speeches and look at art or photographs from the time.



I’m curious how educators will use this list and what other resources they have found useful in celebrating the life and the social justice work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Please share in the comments your thoughts and resources.

Thank you to the educators that suggested the creation of this list and my friends/co-conspirators Megan Pamela Ruth Madison and Kendra PeloJoaquin for the their insight and feedback.

Window of Opportunity: New Zealand/Aotearoa Study Tour 2018

Ijumaa talking with a group of children at the Window of Opportunity.

A Window of Opportunity

The multi-talented, Jeanne Hunt took the above photo during the 2014 New Zealand/Aotearoa Study Tour. It’s hard to make out but there is a sign above the window where the children are that reads “A Window of Opportunity”. The picture captures a special moment of me taking the opportunity to talk with this group of children. They were very curious about why I would come all the way from America to see them and their school.

Here’s some of what I shared with them.
1. I like to visit new places and I hadn’t been to New Zealand before.
2. Many of my friends are on this trip. It’s fun to go places with your friends and make new friends.
3. I enjoy finding out how teachers and children learn about their cultures.

The children seemed satisfied with my response and shared what they like to do with their friends, how they would like to fly on an airplane and visit children in the United States, and what they know living in New Zealand.

Chatting with the children was a special experience, because I still reflect on how the children initiated the conversation and had full confidence that I would take their words and ideas seriously. I was expected to actively engage in the daily life of the program, instead of being a passive observer. The experience moved me to support the educators and leaders that I work with to create social/emotional and physical environments that have many “windows of opportunity” for children and adults to play, think, talk, or just be together. Ensuring this advances the field of early education into the child-centered, co-constructed learning environments we promote.


Reflecting back I realized that the entire study tour experience was a window of opportunity to grow personally and professionally. This type of professional development allowed me to start considering what the benefits of early education is from a cross-cultural perspective. In addition to opening up to new ideas about bi-cultural curriculum frameworks, influences of restorative justice on early education, and the value of Learning Stories as an assessment tool.

The privilege of travel

While I did learn and grow from this experience. I also recognize that participating in a study tour outside of the United States is a social and economic privilege. In my case my ability to cover cost were made possible by a registration fee scholarship, sharing rooming costs, and working a short-term job to raise the rest of the travel fees. The study tour was worth the extra effort and expense and I hope to help other educators raise funds for this type of transformative professional development experience.

What’s your experience?

Have you done a study tour professional development either locally or abroad? What did you learn about yourself and early education? What inspiration did you gain that you implemented in your practice?

I’ll be returning to New Zealand/Aotearoa March 18 -25, 2018 to co-lead the ‘Inspire’ Professional Learning for Teachers Study Tour with Eliana Ellis.

For more information visit

or email

I hope you will join us!

Are Early Childhood Educators Real Teachers?

Head shot of Ijumaa with power point slide shots

Overview of the professional development sessions:

It was my pleasure to facilitate three professional development sessions on Reflective Practice. Early childhood educators who work throughout San Mateo County, California attended these session. Experience ranged from a few years to over 30 years working with children and families as classroom teachers. Many were new to the idea of reflective thinking and practice, but were eager to engage in the work. This professional development is unique in that we worked in a community of practice model.

There is a field work component where participants offer a play experience to children and document the play with pictures and anecdotal notes. They return to the next session and share their documentation with group to discuss and analysis using the Thinking Lens (c). This particular session, educators were offered sand trays and explored children’s learning schemas.

Sand tray with loose parts #1

Sand tray with loose parts #2

Are Preschool Teachers real teachers?

The conversation that has stuck with me is the struggle some early childhood educators have in being viewed as competent professionals educators by teachers in elementary school, families they work with, and their own families.

Glorified babysitters or not real teachers compared to K-12 educators are common stereotypes of early childhood educators. This stereotype is based in the sexist idea that work historically done by women such as childrearing and educating children doesn’t take any particular skill or specialized education. This belief is false. Understanding child development and implementing curriculum that supports healthy development is complex emotionally, physically, and intellectually. It’s not work everyone can do or should do and being a particular gender is not a prerequisite.

Early childhood educators work with small children but don’t do small work.

Early childhood educators who work with children in their early years of development are different from K-12 educators because the developmental and learning needs of younger children are different. Young children need and deserve educators who understand and support their “care and education”. A small example of what early childhood educators need to know are: how to change a diaper, how to support children’s cognitive, social-emotional, and physical development. Also, how to make and sustain healthy relationships with themselves, children, families, and co-workers, in addition to health and safety regulations.

Early childhood educators have the honor of being the first adult outside of their families that children learn from and with. Research has shown the rapid brain development that happens in the early years and the importance of the all the adults in their lives to make sure development happens at an optimal rate for the child. Being an early childhood educator is not an occupation for someone without skill or knowledge.

 Early education deserves respect and a worthy wage.

Since early childhood educators are skillful and knowledgable they deserve a worthy wage. This is not the reality for educators in general and early childhood educators in particular. Early childhood teachers are some of the lowest paid people in the county. The pay is not a reflection of the worth of the educator but a reflection of the low value society puts on women and educating young children. I am a firm believer in the #worthywage movement. Early educators deserve better wages, work conditions and respect for the work that they do.

Be Proud!

I encouraged the early childhood educators to look at their commitment to professional growth. They formed a community of practice by showing up multiple Saturdays to explore reflective practice. I asked them to remember the documentation and the stories that were shared about the wonderful children their program. Also, how they improved their documentation skills and seeing children fully through working together in a community of practice.

And I saw them walk out that room as the true professionals they are.

Group shot of Ijumaa and the participants of the Reflective Teaching Community of Practice 2017

Yes, Early Childhood Educators are REAL Teachers!

Is My Dark Skin Beautiful?

What would you do if a child says to you that they don’t like their dark skin and wish it was lighter? What happens when tell you that they can’t go outside because they don’t want to get too dark? What if you notice that the children don’t play with the dolls with the dark skin because “those babies are ugly”.

These are all examples of colorism.

Colorism is prejudice or discrimination against individuals with a dark skin tone, typically among people of the same ethnic and/or racial group. Because talking about racism and skin color is still a taboo in our culture. Educators have the most questions about what they should say if a child is ashamed of their dark skin or children are excluding other children because of their dark skin.

A good place to begin is acknowledging and understanding that colorism exist within a racist society. Next is to think of and create responses that would support children’s healthy racial self-image.

In the case of a child not liking their skin color, reassure the child that their skin color is beautiful and a wonderful and unique part of who they are. Listen to the child’s response, acknowledge that they may have seen, heard, or experienced something where they received the message that their skin color is ugly and not preferred. Let them know while some people may believe that it’s not true. Be sure that you keep the discussion conversational rather than give a lecture about how the child should “love the skin their in”. Read the child’s cues and take seriously their concerns and thoughts.

As with most ideas, these conversations should happen frequently in addition to using the environment and adult child interactions to give the direct and indirect message of the beauty and value of dark skin tones.

In our work to support children’s healthy racial and cultural identity, it’s important to consider the following:

  • Environment (Physical & Social Emotional)
    • Do you provide opportunities to black and dark brown materials, such as black play dough, black and brown building materials, dark skin dolls, action figures, block people?
    • Are people with dark skin tones the main characters of books and stories told? Are they the heroes or only the villains?
    • When looking at the pictures in your classroom do they include people with dark skin tones? Do they hold positions of authority such as doctors, teachers, or government officials? Many times dark skin people are shown in subordinate positions.
  • Interactions (What do I say? How do I respond?)
    • Who is portrayed as beautiful, pretty, or handsome?
    • Are children warned to stay out of the sun, so that their skin doesn’t become darker?
    • How do you talk about skin color to support positive racial self-image?
  • Activities (Integrated throughout the day and year)
    • Read books that directly discuss colorism and information books about skin color
    • Have ongoing conversations with children about the value and beauty of their’s and others skin color.
    • Choose and offer black and dark brown play materials to reinforce the value of dark skin tones.

These are beginning suggestions and a place to start making changes to support healthy racial development for all children. What examples of colorism have you noticed or experienced? What do the children in you life understand about how society values light skin over dark skin? What’s your plan in discussing colorism with children?


Book: Grandpa, Is Everything Black Bad? by Sandy Holman Lynne

Book: All The Colors We Are – 20th Anniversary Edition: The Story of How We Get Our Skin Color by Katie Kissinger

Article: Children, Race, and Racism by Louise Derman Sparks, Carol Tanaka Higa, Bill Sparks

LOS NIÑOS, LA RAZA Y EL RACISMO Por Louise Derman-Sparks, Carol Tanaka Higa, Bill Sparks


Word for 2015


I was complaining to a friend about not being able to find order and balance in everything I need to do for my life to work well. My friend wisely said to identify my priorities and focus on those. That same day while distracting myself looking at pretty things on Pintrest I found the picture above and settled on Priority being my word of 2015. Here is the debut of my commitments for 2015 which which are now priorities.

Commitment #1


  • Daily – Play and move my body in a way that delights me.
  • Weekly – Make a craft or give myself a beauty treatment.
  • Monthly – Take myself on a date.

Commitment #2

Create more paid work through reaching people online.

  • Post on my blog 52 times this year (Yay, 1 down)
  • Send out a newsletter monthly
  • Self host and offer at least one professional development exclusively online.

Commitment #3

Travel and connect with my friends and family.

  • Go on one international trip with at least one other person
  • Send a card or a letter to one friend a month
  • Hangout with a different friend each month

What did you commit to do for 2015?