When I first held up a picture of Martin Luther King, Jr., I asked the kids if anyone knew who was pictured. Several of the students called out "Obama"! (I got the same response last year, as well.) Once I said, "This is Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.", several of the kids made comments like, "Oh, yeah". (Yeah, right, they knew it all the time! :) We talked about how not so long ago, people were treated very differently, depending on their skin color.
I pulled out a brown paper lunch sack and decorative gift bag. Each bag had a little pony figure from one of our centers, exactly the same. We talked about which package they would like to receive and why. I then had students discover items are the same inside. I explained that just because the bags on the outside are different, the important thing is what's in the bag. After I mixed the items up, the students couldn't determine which item came in which bag,
I then asked students to pair up with someone who looks different than themselves. After they were paired, I asked them to talk with their partner and find out ways the are similar (likes, dislikes, age, number of siblings,etc.) After a few minutes with partners, I asked student pairs to share findings with the rest of the group. I asked the students how they would feel if they couldn't play with their friends, just because they were different on the outside.
I told the students about Ruby Bridges and her long walks to school and her lonely days without classmates. After I read The Story of Ruby Bridges by Robert Coles, I told them how when I was little, I used to wish that I was just a little older so I could have gone to her school and been her friend. I wanted to walk down the street with her, holding her hand, so she wouldn't be afraid all by herself.
We talked about Rosa Parks and how she stood up for her rights. I then read a few books about Martin Luther King, Jr. and discussed how he led people everywhere so the things that Ruby and Rosa endured wouldn't happen again. Two my favorite books to share about MLK are "Martin's Big Words" and "My Brother Martin"
Our unit was fairly short this year --- due to unexpected and very rare snow days, I had to reorganize my lesson plans. I had to omit some lessons and reschedule others. I did not want to cut our plans to celebrate MLK Day and learn about his contributions, but I did have to make it a much shorter unit than planned. I incorporate a lot of Dr. King's teachings into our day to day activities, as we work on social/emotional skills, so I think that the lessons we did get to do really made an impact.
I have been teaching early childhood for about 20 years. I love what I do---it's the best job in the world!!! Where else can you go to work each day and do art, play games, have snack and get hugs regularly AND get paid for it?! I love to share ideas with other teachers and see what they are doing in their classrooms. Teaching is the best profession---we love to share!