This Monday, January 16th, we honor and celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The holiday provides an opportunity to discuss diversity and justice with young children in simple ways. Below, I share staff insights into the day and suggestions for talking to your children about race, diversity, and MLK Jr.
From Junior Kindergarten
Barbara and Debbie began conversations about equity and fairness by reading the book Swimmy by Leo Leonni. Teachers aimed to focus on how small actions, together, make a just and inclusive community. The class talked about how speaking up and leading encourages others to take action and protect others together. Swimmy highlights the power of organizing in a way that is relatable and meaningful to young children.
From Four Day
During snack on Wednesday and Thursday in Four Day, we shared photos of Martin Luther King Jr. as a father and an organizer. We told children that he was a helper and he got people together to help make things fair. We then asked them if they knew what the word fair meant. One child answered, “It’s the World Fair.” Another quickly added, “Like a carnival.” They needed more information. We offered relatable examples of only curly haired people being allowed to eat snack or only people with gray pants being allowed to play at the table. Would that be fair? We heard a resounding “No!” We told them that we are celebrating MLK day on Monday because of what an important person he was. One child asked if he died and we said yes, a long time ago. We didn’t go into more details, just responded to what the children asked.
Talking to Preschoolers about MLK Jr. and race
Talking to young children about race is important, because early childhood is a crucial and vulnerable period for identity development. Between 2 ½ and 3 ½, children move beyond noticing differences and begin absorbing socially prevailing negative stereotypes, feelings, and ideas about people, including themselves. By the time they are 4, children are seeking labels for racial/ethnic identity and have their own theories about what causes a disability, skin tone, and gender. (Derman-Sparks, Teaching for Change).