One of the easiest things to do as a teacher is to integrate achievements of people such as Martin Luther King Jr. into your classroom discussions and community year round. Although our government has set aside special time to honor his particular life and legacy, the simple concept of civil rights is a very basic tenant that will resonate with many children as young as kindergarten who can't believe that there was a time in our history when students were sent to different school based simply on the color of their skin.
Each year when I introduce my kindergarten class to the idea fiction and non-fiction, there are bins that are clearly labeled with stickers on the front, F for fiction and NF for non-fiction. Right there at the front of my bins are stories of people such as Ruby Bridges, Madame C.J. Walker, Sitting Bull and of course, Dr. King. Each time I present a story to the class while covering up its classification on the front cover, I will ask if we have just read fiction or non-fiction. We even chant it together while tapping on our legs, "Fiction means pretend. (Clap, Clap, Clap) Non-fiction is real."
One of my favorite non-fiction books, Happy Birthday Martin Luther King Jr., follows the life of Dr. King from a young boy to his death. Mid-way through the book there is a page where Dr. King is on a playground helping two boys solve a disagreement. Before we come to this part,
the books explains how Dr. King worked with people, sang with them, prayed with them and walked with them to help them use words and not violence to solve problems. When reading the page about the playground and I ask the students before revealing the words what they think is happening on the page. Almost invariably they answer, "Dr. King said use your words."
So, the simplicity of this has become a mantra in our kindergarten community. "Dr. King said use your word." Just by sheer biological developmental, students of this age are egocentric and particular about their personal space, tools and placement in line. Often hands do the thinking and push, pull or hurt a classmate before they have even thought of the alternative. As we have practiced integrating Dr. King's ideals into our classroom students now will say to each other when one has become physical, "Dr. King said use your words." This has become a simple non-shaming reminder for students what the expectations of in our classroom community as well as the world beyond our school.
In our classroom, their are three large posters of Dr. King that repeat the written mantra and the students helped to decide where they should be placed as reminders. They are in our group time area, close to where we line-up and just outside our classroom door. Not only does the color of Dr. King's skin match some of my students, but additionally it does not match others.