Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day! We hope this day finds your family well. Every MLK Day since 2017, we’ve been lucky to gather with PLAY families for a music & art celebration. We talked to kids about Dr. King and sang songs about community, friendship & peace. We did a little art, usually while listening to some Ella Jenkins. To make it a day of service, we donated the proceeds to charity (UNICEF, since our business is about kids).

This has become our favorite day of the year at PLAY, and we hope to see you for it in ’22. In the meantime, here are a few little things for your MLK Day celebration today.

Please take care & thanks–

(Click for a little audio from Jan. ’20.)

Sing a Song

The music of Ella Jenkins makes a perfect soundtrack for your MLK Day with kids. Known as the “First Lady of Children’s Music,” Jenkins, now 96, has been bringing people together with music for several decades. Since the 1950s, she has traveled the world performing and teaching, and has released a wealth of recordings through Smithsonian Folkways, exploring traditional African and African American folk music, a comprehensive collection of traditional children’s songs from around the world, and her own original music.

The gospel song “This Little Light of Mine” is ready-made for singing with kids because it’s malleable & easy to learn. The PLAY recording features a vocal by Samantha Nelson.

Celebrate Diversity

Instilling in kids that diversity is a strength is something we can do every day. With the youngest kids, start by answering their questions and talking freely about the differences they see, the first of which may be people’s different skin tones. There are many children’s books on this subject. My daughters brought home Shades of People from preschool a few years ago, and I like it because it’s illustrated with photographs (which I think sometimes make a greater impression than drawings when kids are seeking out specific information). For a scientific perspective, take a look at the bilingual (English/Spanish) book, All The Colors We Are: The Story of How We Get Our Skin Color, which explains how our skin colors are determined by melanin, our ancestors, and the sun. If you feel uncomfortable talking about these subjects, seek out resources about talking to children about race.

Exploring skin tones through paint is a fun activity for kids, and the trick of it is that the lesson teaches itself. These shades are many and beautiful, even more so when used together. Once you’ve mixed your colors, let kids paint whatever they like. You can find many tutorials online for mixing skin tone paints. I’ve listed a simple method below.

Skin Tone Paints

  • Start with roughly equal amounts of primary colored tempera paint (red, yellow, blue) in one container. Mix.
  • Add a little more red and/or yellow until you can’t see any more blue or green tones.
  • Distribute this medium brown base among several separate containers. Little by little, add varying amounts of red and/or yellow to change the tones. Add white or black to lighten or darken your colors.

Acts of Service

Martin Luther King Jr. Day is a national day of service (as designated by Congress in 1994). It’s trickier this year to come up with acts of service for little kids to participate in, since opportunities to volunteer outside our households and donations of some physical items are necessarily limited right now. Can you think of an act of service that little kids can meaningfully participate in this year? (Something that will make a difference, big or small, to someone outside your family?) It’s not an easy one! I’d love to hear your ideas : ).

I think heartfelt thank-you notes & gestures qualify–also, reaching out to people who are in isolation, as many children have done during the pandemic by sending artwork and notes to seniors, and of course donations. It may not sound especially hands-on, but I like talking to my kids (currently, the seven-year-olds) about what money can do, even small amounts of money if we all give what we can to causes that we care about. This is more tangible if you direct it at something they can relate to, and more tangible still if they have a little money and you invite them to kick in! (We’re keeping up our PLAY tradition of donating to UNICEF on MLK Day, so we’ll talk with our kids about how those donations help children.)

Celebrate Service

Here’s a new PLAY adaptation of the Panamanian traditional song, “Al Tambor,” sung by Emilia Lopez-Yañez. This version is dedicated to community workers who help us every day.