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.

Foundation

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.

Preparation

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.

Implementation

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.

 

Notes

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.