Character, Not Color

I am very happy to be off school today for Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

I had originally planned to do a weekend recap today with snapshots from the weekend, but as I've been thinking about today's significance I thought a more thoughtful post was in order...

As you might expect, we have been teaching the kids about Martin Luther King Jr. in the last week.  Explaining a situation like segregation to five year olds is tough.

Furthermore, most of my students are black or multiracial, making my job even bigger.  Learning about a man that fought so much for their futures is of utmost importance.  Without launching a discussion about today's social issues or race, I'd like to also point out that many of my students' don't have the most positive role models in their homes.  Personally, as a teacher, I sometimes wonder how far my impact will extend throughout their lives.  Will these children that I try to love, uplift, and educate rise above social barriers or simply continue the cycle of poverty that they've experienced?

I have two favorite activities that I do with my kindergartners when teaching about MLK.  The first is that I absolutely love the book My Brother Martin.  It may be slightly advanced for kindergartners, but it is one that is easy to bring down to their level.  The book is written by Christine King Farris, the sister of Martin Luther King Jr.  I like it so much, because it tells the story of Martin as a child.  It references him by his nickname M.L. and shares stories of pranks that he did as a child.  I think that so often historical figures are put up on this pedestal to children.  They have such a grand persona that it makes it difficult for children to relate.  By laughing over the story of Martin and his siblings playing jokes on unsuspecting neighbors, students are able to think "he was just like me."

After reading the book this week, the students, unprompted by me, began a discussion of their racial backgrounds.  When I gave examples of his impact today, students jumped at the fact that blacks and whites can marry.  My students all raised their hands proudly stating whether they were "black" "white" or "mixed" (a term I totally wasn't expecting to come out of their mouths) and even going so far as to explain "light skinned" or "dark skinned."  I did not actively participate, rather just sat back and let them proudly share who they are from a racial standpoint.  I want my students to see their race as something to be proud of and to see positive roles models, like Martin Luther King Jr.  

Finally, the other activity I love is to actually show students a clip of the "I Have a Dream" speech.  Not only can they see what an impact he was by seeing the large crowd, but they can also see him "alive" and hear the passion in his voice.  Over and over I repeat my favorite quote of his to them:  

"I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."

I want them to know that character is what counts most, more than any physical feature that can be seen from the outside.

What do you find to be the greatest words or contributions of Martin Luther King Jr.?

If you are a parent, or fellow teacher, how do you explain "grown up" topics like segregation to young kids?

Come back Wednesday for a delicious Southern recipe:  Pimiento Cheese Ham Biscuits!

Have a great day!


  1. That speech gives me chills every time I hear it!

  2. A great man...and a great teacher talking about a great man.Wonderful post...those kids are lucky to have you.

  3. The middle school kids I taught were 98% freer lunch and 100% minorities. Knowing if you are making a difference or not is one of the hardest parts of the jobs. I knew my kids went home to empty houses, had to awake care of their brothers and sisters and had very very few positive role models from their neighborhood. It was so sad, but at least for the year I had them I could give them a safe loving environment where hopefully they learned a bit too.

  4. I love this post. What a great job you have!

  5. I love this! You sound like an amazing teacher! This is one of those topics I haven't really broached with Avery yet because she is so young she doesn't even see in color. I know that she doesn't see this way in large part thanks to MLK.

  6. My students always amaze me with their innocence. They couldn't imagine going to school and not having their best friend (of another race) with them. It's a difficult topic to teach as far as you have to be careful with your wording, but they are SO interested and caring.

  7. It's amazing that you can have that discussion with kindergarten students! I teach 7th grade, and I can't imagine having such an important conversation with babies that young. Sounds like you're doing a wonderful job :)

  8. You are amazing! I imagine it's a huge challenge to talk about this in such an open forum and explain it to developing minds who are just starting to understand their histories and the struggles of their people. But you've been so creative with it and I'm sure it made an impact. Yay for snow days, stay warm :)


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