Learning, Living and Loving the Dream: MLK Activities for Kids
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. dreamed of a “beloved community,” a world where everyone is cared for and there is no poverty, injustice or hate. These MLK Day activities for kids will help even the busiest families honor Dr. King and inspire everyone to make his dream a reality.
- Rowland Scherman
- Written By
- Jenna Gabrial Gallagher
Get to Know Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Since large parts of the country are usually dealing with winter weather in January, Martin Luther King Jr. Day is a great excuse for having an MLK family film festival or tucking into a good book about the Civil Rights hero. Here are some of our top picks to help kids learn more about Dr. King.
MLK Movies for Kids
· March On: The Day My Brother Martin Changed the World, available on DVD or CD, is a personal account, writ ten by MLK’s sister, Dr. Christine King Farris, for ages three and older, of the day Dr. King delivered his I Have a Dream speech.
· Selma Lord Selma, a critically a cclaimed made-for-TV Disney movie from the late ‘90s, features Dr. King’s daughter Yolanda among its cast members and tells the story of the right-to-vote movement from a child’s perspective.
· Boycott and Selma Rated PG and PG-13, respectively, these MLK movies for older kids, teens, and adults portray two important chapters in Dr. King’s life. Boycott, currently streaming on HBOMax, stars Jeffrey Wright as Dr. King at the start of the Civil Rights movement in 1955, while director Ava DuVernay’s Selma, available on Prime Video, portrays the historic march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama to secure equal voting rights ten years later.
MLK Books for Kids:
· A Place to Land: Martin Luther King Jr. And the Speech That Inspired a Nation by Barry Wittenstein celebrates the “I Have A Dream” speech, as well as the many civil rights leaders who helped influence it. This book is geared toward elementary school-aged children, but the whole family will appreciate Wittenstein’s free verse storytelling and the beautiful watercolor illustrations by the late Jerry Pinkney, a recipient of the Coretta Scott King–Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement.
· Memphis, Martin and the Mountaintop by Alice Faye Duncan is a picture book portraying the Memphis Sanitation Strike through the eyes of a nine-year-old girl. With illustrations by R. Gregory Christie.
· Dear Martin by Nic Stone is a novel rather than a biography, but it does tell the story of a modern Black teen trying to reconcile the teachings of Dr. King with the racial violence and injustice all around him. This first book in a two-part series will resonate with older kids and teens who enjoyed The Hate You Give.
· You can also check out the Maisonette team’s favorite MLK books for kids of all ages.
Visit a Local Civil Rights Monument, Museum, or Event
If you’re fortunate to live near a notable Civil Rights monument, a museum that regularly features exhibits around the ongoing movement or a special Martin Luther King Day event (like Brooklyn’s Tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., or LA’s Annual Kingdom Day Parade), a family field trip can be one of the most engaging and memorable MLK Day activities for kids—just remember to double check Covid safety guidelines before you go.
Unsure of what’s available in your area? Local events guides or the website Civil Rights Trail may help. You can also research local community centers, co-ops, and galleries that celebrate artists of color to determine if they have any special MLK activities planned for kids and families.
Volunteer for an MLK Day of Service Project
MLK Day, the only federal holiday designated as a day of service, is famously known as “a day on, not a day off” because everyone is encouraged to volunteer in honor of Dr. King. Americorps has a database of MLK Day volunteer opportunities (searchable by zip code) on their website, or you can spend time volunteering at any organization that’s important to you and your family.
Some popular MLK volunteer activities for younger kids include:
· Visiting a senior center
· Shelving cans or helping count inventory at a food bank
· Rounding up gently-used toys to donate (January decluttering…check!)
Older kids can help with all of the above, or get involved by:
· Joining their parents to serve food at a shelter
· Participating in a community clean-up or building project
· Organizing a food or clothing drive
Whatever your family decides to do, it’s always a good idea to check with your chosen organization first—MLK Day volunteer opportunities can fill up fast.
Thread Dr. King Into Your Day
Even if you don’t have a whole day to dedicate to MLK activities for kids, here are some ways that you can honor Dr. King and start a family conversation about his dream:
· Listen to the song “Happy Birthday” by Stevie Wonder, the I Have a Dream speech or an MLK Day playlist on your favorite music streaming app and discuss why we celebrate this important holiday.
· Make or order a family meal from a local Black-owned business with your preferred versions of Dr. King’s favorite foods (according to those who knew him, he loved traditional Southern comfort foods) and dedicate the table talk to MLK’s legacy.
· Encourage everyone to journal or create artwork about their dreams for the world and share it with the family.
Keep the Dream Alive, 365
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and the "beloved community" won’t be either. The good news is: once your family has fallen in love with working toward Dr. King’s dream, they won’t want to give it up. By devoting whatever time you can spare—whether it’s 15 minutes a week, a few hours a month, or one day a quarter—to educating yourself and your children, volunteering, or doing an activity for kids that honors MLK and other civil rights leaders, you can help keep the dream alive.
Jenna Gabrial Gallagher is a writer and editor who specializes in topics related to lifestyle and design, families, women entrepreneurs, travel and sustainability. She has three funny little girls called the GaGas.
Image: Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C. showing Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mathew Ahmann in a crowd. Original black and white negative by Rowland Scherman. Taken August 28th, 1963, Washington D.C, United States c/o The National Archives and Records Administration. Colorized by Jordan J. Lloyd. U.S. Information Agency. Press and Publications Service. ca. 1953-ca. 1978. https://catalog.archives.gov/id/542015