Explaining MLK day

Put Dr. King's legacy in terms your child can understand with this activity.

Learning Stages

By Shelby Moore


Shelby Moore is a kindergarten teacher at an inner-city school in Houston and was recently awarded as one of the East Region's Campus Teachers of the Year.

You can celebrate Dr. King's legacy by teaching your kids how he affected American history.

How can you talk about this big issue with young children?

Here are some ideas:

  • First, put it into simpler terms for a kindergartner or first grader to understand.
  • To put the issue of racism into simpler terms, it is easier to first discuss fair vs. unfair.
  • Talk to your child about how people are treated fairly and how they might be treated unfairly.
  • Go to the library and check out children’s books about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Here is a lesson I have done in my classroom for the past few years to let children experience prejudice first hand, in reference to Martin Luther King Day.

My students always seem to catch on quickly to the issue of prejudice by experiencing it themselves. 


  • A favorite treat; enough for a few people in your family, but leaving some people out. I use cheese crackers or pretzels that we normally have for a morning snack.
  • A book about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.


  1. Before I mention Dr. King, I pass out morning snacks to only half of my class. (Last year I only gave them to the boys.)
  2. When the other children question this, I explain that only the boys are getting snacks today with no other explanation. The rest of the class will be quite put out at this point.
  3. I wait about 5-10 minutes and call them to our story rug, without any explanation for my actions. I start to read the picture book of Martin Luther King's life.
  4. After I have completed reading the story, I ask the children who did not receive snacks how they felt about that. They are usually still very upset with me.
  5. Then I ask those who did receive snacks how they felt.
  6. Now I explain that I was demonstrating prejudice or unequal treatment. The children have a greater understanding of how unfairly black people were treated in Dr. King's day.
  7. Finally, I give morning snack to those children I skipped earlier. I have a worksheet made to send home so the parents know about our lesson. I explain what we did and have each child express their feelings during my lesson. Then we write about how we felt, and they can take that home to share with their parents as well.

As hard as it is to slight my children in this lesson, I feel that it is a real learning experience for them.