MLK Day of Rememberance: Teaching Your Kids About the Civil Rights Movement


On Martin Luther King Jr’s Day of Remembrance, many of us reflect on the Civil Rights leader and what he stood for: freedom, justice, and equality for all citizens.

Some use the day in service to others, volunteering for food distribution or other community service projects around the area. If you are looking for opportunities to volunteer in Richmond, Hands On RVA is a great place to start.

If you want to supplement what your kids learn in school with more lessons on the Civil rights movement and what it means for us today, here are 7 tips to help you get started:

For You

  1. Start with the Internet. Educate yourself. If you have very limited knowledge of the history of the Civil Rights movement, it will be hard to feel informed enough to broach the topic with your kids. You don’t have to be an expert, though. There are thousands of resources, from first-hand accounts available from the Library of Congress, to a simple Google search. It doesn’t matter where you start, just that you do. 

For Younger Kids

  1. Start young. No matter what the age of your children, you can expose them to age-appropriate books, shows, and toys that encourage them to look at the world from a wide range of perspectives. This sets the stage for understanding why it is important to respect others’ differences. Civil Rights is about equality for all people. It is easier to understand this concept when given the opportunity from an early age. I believe it is even more important to take this step if your children are not already exposed to people of diverse heritage and backgrounds.
  1. Start with what they know. More often than not, from about kindergarten on, children in school are given some sort of lesson about Martin Luther King Jr. and what he stood for. Ask if they know about him or any other Civil Rights leaders, and then work to expand their knowledge about what he and many others have worked towards.

For Ages 6 and Up

  1. Start with the “I Have a Dream” speech. Search YouTube for MLK’s Dream Speech and print a copy of the words (focusing on the latter section for younger kids). Talk about the meaning behind his words and ask about your children’s dreams. Build a conversation around whether it would be fair for everyone to have the same opportunities to dream as they do.
  1. Start with the role of children in the Civil Rights movement. Young people really engage when they see that someone just like them did something extraordinary. Ruby Bridges was just 6 years old when she integrated William Frantz Elementary School in Louisiana. A great Disney movie (available on YouTube) and numerous picture books depict her story. There were many young people who stood up for what they thought was right. Learning about school integration, children’s marches, and lunch counter sit-ins is a great place to start.
  1. Start with a Book! There are books for ALL ages around the Civil Rights movement that foster a mindset of inclusiveness with your kids. I found this site to have wonderful, highly recommended books. Some of these I have used at home and in my own classroom.
  1. Start with Teaching Tolerance, a Southern Poverty Law Center resource that has helpful ways of teaching about justice and inclusiveness. Their activity book for children in grades 4-6 is a great way to learn the history of the Civil Rights movement and start a conversation. Click this link for a free pdf of the booklet. 

While holidays like MLK do offer an opportunity to take a break from school and work, they also offer fantastic opportunities to learn more and engage our kids in meaningful ways.