What can young children learn about Dr. Martin Luther King that is both appropriate and accurate? How can we use the anniversary of his birthday as a “teachable moment?”
I think we can begin with the notion of “a great man.” Dr. King was a great man. What does that mean? Ask the children if they know any great people. Ask what makes them great? Write down their answers. Make a graph. Explore their ideas. I imagine that the children will have many wonderful answers and thoughtful ideas about these questions.
I would also incorporate ideas about fairness into this conversation. Children are very interested in issues of fairness, justice, power, and control. Dr. King believed in fairness and equality. Ask the children, “What does ‘being fair’ mean?” Investigate their ideas about fairness and justice. Chart their answers.
Some children may think that “fair” means “equal.” That is a very common way for young children to think about what is fair, in terms of equality. When there is one cookie left in the house, they have to split it and they are told, “That is fair.” They are told and they believe that because each gets an even share of the cookie, fair means equal. However, they might also have an older sibling who gets to stay up later than they do. This may not be equal, but it is fair. This is a much more difficult concept to understand and for the egocentric child, completely unfair.
Today, celebrate Dr. King’s birthday with a conversation about “great people” and “fairness.” Both will honor his memory in a wonderful way.