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!