MLK Day: 5 Ways to Help Your Kids Understand the Significance

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There is a federal holiday in January marking the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., born January 15, 1929. King, a leader of the civil rights movement, is well known for his efforts to bring about racial equality in the nation using nonviolent means. The same year that King won the Nobel Peace Prize in the field of human rights, the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed.  Try these suggested activities to promote a deeper appreciation for what King did to advance the well-being of our nation.



  1. Learn about the civil rights movement: Check out a timeline of African American history.  The civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s was the political, legal, and social struggle to gain full citizenship rights for African Americans and to achieve racial equality. Note that on August 28, 1963, over 200,000 participated in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, where King delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.


  3. Volunteer for a day of service: According to, King once said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: ‘What are you doing for others?’” In 1994, Congress designated the Martin Luther King, Jr. federal holiday as a national day of service and charged the Corporation for National and Community Service with leading this effort. Taking place each year on the third Monday in January, the MLK Day of Service is the only federal holiday observed as a national day of service. With your kids, look online at photos of a previous year’s day of service to give your kids an idea of what volunteering is all about.
    Enrich your kids’ understanding of making a contribution to societal welfare, as Martin Luther King did, by encouraging them to volunteer. Even at a young age, kids can help by making cards for a local hospital, or adopting an elderly neighbor by checking on him or her on a routine basis. Or make it a family effort; volunteer along with your kids for local community activities.


  5. Read the “I Have a Dream” speech: See if your kids can find King’s speech listed in the program for the March on Washington. Try reading the speech with your kids to get a sense of content, and see if they can understand the significance of the words.

  6. MLK I Have A Dream Button


  7. Learn the intent of monuments: Let your kids know memorials, such as that built to remember King, can be made to not only remind us of a particular person or event, but the actual structure’s architecture can relay different messages and intent. Impress upon your kids the amount of thought that can be given when designing a memorial, such as the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial.


  9. Locate historical places of relevance: People from all over the country traveled to Washington, DC, for the March on Washington. Learn about historic civil rights locations around the country with the National Park Service’s interactive map. Ask your kids if they see any places that are in their home state. Have them pick out a place or two they’d like to learn about, and read about it online together.



These are a few ideas for the many activities you can enjoy with your kids while learning more about Martin Luther King, Jr., and the civil rights movement.

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Last Modified: 12/01/2015