Martin Luther King Day is an opportunity for your parent group to help focus students’ attention on the civil rights leader and to reinforce his message of racial justice and equal rights. Here are five ideas for marking the holiday, which falls on the third Monday in January each year.
Sponsor an “I Have a Dream” speechwriting contest. Invite students to write and deliver a speech about an issue of concern to them. Recruit a panel of judges from your community’s houses of worship or your public library. Award prizes, such as a gift certificate to a local book store. Students who are too young to participate in the speechwriting contest can submit posters depicting freedom and justice for all. Hang these in your school lobby and hallways.
Host a civil rights-theme family reading night. There are plenty of good children’s books about Martin Luther King Jr. and other figures involved in the struggle for racial equality in the United States. If you’re unsure which to choose, ask your school librarian for help. Invite guest readers from your community or school. If you have time, follow up with an art project that ties into one of the evening’s reading selections. For example, a story about Rosa Parks could be followed with a project in which children make city buses out of card stock and draw faces of different skin tones in the windows. (Interested in running your own reading event? Our free Family Reading Night kit has everything you need to hold a great event, including planning tips, theme and snack ideas, and creative activities.)
Sponsor a community service project. Martin Luther King Jr. advocated service to others. Choose a cause in your community and spearhead an effort to support it with fundraising or in other ways. For example, your school might collect canned goods for a food pantry, adopt a park to spruce up, or raise money for a nonprofit that stands up for people’s civil rights. Drive home the message of democracy for all by selecting several causes and asking the students in your school to vote for the one they’d like to support.
Create an “I Have a Dream” bulletin board. Decorate your parent group’s bulletin board with a picture of Martin Luther King Jr. and title it “I Have a Dream.” Give teachers construction paper clouds and ask them to invite students to write down their wishes for the future of the country and the world. Post these on your bulletin board around the image of Martin Luther King Jr. If your parent group doesn’t have its own bulletin board, ask your building principal for the use of one.
Throw a birthday party for Martin Luther King Jr. Book your school cafeteria for a couple of hours in the early evening and invite families to celebrate the birth of Martin Luther King Jr. Decorate with balloons, serve birthday cake, and play music by artists who promote justice, such as Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, or Bob Dylan. Put out construction paper, markers, and other materials so students can create cards bearing messages of hope, peace, and harmony. (Younger kids might also enjoy Martin Luther King Day activity sheets and coloring pages from SchoolFamily.com.)