Make the Most of MLK Day with These Books and Activities

Each year in January, Jumpstart staff and Corps members honor Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday with service events at Jumpstart sites across the country. If you are lucky enough to have the day off from work, we encourage you to take part in a community service project in your own neighborhood, or to celebrate at home with these fun reading suggestions and craft activities developed by our senior manager of community engagement in New York, Victoria True.

Recommended Reading

Happy Birthday, Martin Luther King

Written by Jean Marzollo and Illustrated by J. Brian Pinkney

This beautifully illustrated book tells the story of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life, focusing on actions and events that are most relatable to preschoolers, including the desegregation of schools, busses, and drinking fountains.

I Have a Dream

Words by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. with illustrations by Kadir Nelson

This book pairs Martin Luther King’s famous speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial with magnificent illustrations.

Beautiful Blackbird

By Ashley Bryan

Coretta Scott King Award-winner Ashley Bryan’s adaptation of a Zambian tale highlights the universal ideas of appreciating one’s heritage and discovering the beauty within, alongside his beautiful cut-paper illustrations.

Are you an early educator? A special edition of this book is available at a discounted price from First Book, a non-profit committed to elevating educational opportunities for children.

Suggested Activities

Dream Cloud

In this activity, children are asked to describe what their dream world looks like by illustrating it on a blank “cloud.”

Materials:

  • Scissors, crayons or markers, scrap paper cut into the shape of a cloud

Purpose:

  • Children develop an understanding of Dr. King’s dream and explore in words and pictures ways that they could help make the world a better place.

Your role:

  • Talk with your child/children about Martin Luther King, Jr. Explain that he wanted to make the world a better place where all people care for each other.
  • Help your child/children brainstorm ways they could make the world a better place and care for others.
  • Help your child/children write their ideas on a cloud if they want your help or are not able to write yet.
  • Encourage your child/children to illustrate their ideas on their cloud and draw pictures of their dream world.

Friendship Hands

In this activity, children will be assisted in cutting out and designing their own paper hearts.

Materials:

  • Scissors, paper (brown paper grocery bags work well, or colored construction paper if you have it); crayons or markers

Purpose:

  • Children will discuss and name one thing that makes someone a good friend.

Your role:

  • Help your child/children choose a color of paper and trace a heart onto it.
  • Assist your child/children in cutting out the heart.
  • Encourage them to write their name on the heart, or have them spell their name out loud so you can write it out with them.
  • Ask your child/children to think of one word or thing that makes someone a good friend. Have them write their idea out on the heart or help write it for them.
  • Encourage your child/children decorate their heart. They can illustrate what their word looks like or draw about friendship in general.

Same on the Inside

In this activity, children will have the opportunity to explore, investigate, and start to use deductive thinking.

Materials:

  • 2-3 eggs of different colors (you can often find brown eggs in the health food/organic section of the grocery store), a bowl

Purpose:

  • Children will begin to understand that even if something looks different on the outside, it can be the same on the inside.

Your role:

  • Show your child/children the different eggs.
  • Let them investigate the eggs. Have them hold and touch the eggs, and describe what they notice is similar and different about them.
  • Have them guess what the inside of each of the eggs will look like, based on their outside appearance.
  • Crack open the eggs over a bowl, and let your child/children see what’s actually on the inside.
  • Talk with your child/children about the eggs: how even though they look different on the outside, they are actually made up of the same thing on the inside.
  • Connect this idea to the ways that people look different from one another, but are also the same on the inside.

Together, we can help all children build the key language and literacy skills they need to take on the world.

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