Dr. King’s Legacy: How to Teach Kids to Be Good People

Parenting expert Annie Fox shares how to teach kindness this Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service.

Six-year-old Olivia Nutter helps paint a mural at the Dobbins/Randolph Vocational-Technical high school in Philadelphia on the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service. (Photo: Getty Images)

Each week parenting expert Annie Fox will share her wit and wisdom for teaching kids to be good people and strong learners.


During the Civil Rights Movement, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. frequently spoke of a “beloved community” created through nonviolence. In this community, he said, we would all live together as brothers. He said that love is what would solve the race problem.

For some people, this way of thinking was downright dangerous. Fortunately, others were inspired by Dr. King’s words and example of nonviolence.

Today, we’ve made much progress in creating the just society that Dr. King envisioned, but the work must continue.

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In 1994, Congress designated Martin Luther King, Jr. Day as a National Day of Service which “... empowers individuals, strengthens communities, bridges barriers, creates solutions to social problems, and moves us closer to Dr. King’s vision of a beloved community.”

Monday (January 21) is the day. Think of it as a day on, not a day off. If your family would like to be part of a community service project, visit the official Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service website and enter your zip code into Find a Project.

If you’re a teacher wanting to help your students enrich the community (and their own lives) through service to others, check out Scholastic.com where you’ll find service learning lesson plans for grades 3-5 and for grades 6-8.

Of course, we can always choose to be kind and helpful. Here’s a lesson plan I created that can be used in the days leading up to Martin Luther King, Jr. Day or any other week of the year:

The Acts of Kindness Challenge

Educational Objectives: To help students understand that we have the power to do good within our family, circle of friends, school, and community. Each of us can help make society more respectful and compassionate by increasing our acts of kindness.

Discussion Drivers: Recall a time someone was kind to you. How did it make you feel? How did you respond? Recall a time you went out of your way to be kind to someone. How did that make you feel?

Getting started: Challenge yourself to be kinder. Over the next two weeks, each time you perform an Act of Kindness (to help someone), write it down so you won’t forget.

NOTE: Sometimes when we offer to help it is refused. This can feel like a slap in the face. But don’t let it get you down or stop you from being helpful. Instead, honor your own good intentions. Keep track of each time you sincerely offer to help someone. It counts whether the person accepts your kindness or not.

Favorite excuses for not helping others: Sometimes when we fail to do the right thing, like helping someone, we justify it with excuses. Here are some very common excuses:

  •   I didn’t have time.
  •   I didn’t get around to it.
  •   I didn’t know I was supposed to.
  •   I thought someone else would do it.
  •   I was too busy/too tired.
  •   I meant to…
  •   I thought about it…

Discussion Drivers: How do you feel when you use an excuse instead of helping? What might be behind an excuse? For example, perhaps the truth is that you didn’t help someone because you were afraid other people would give you a hard time. (Something to think about.)

Nurturing Kindness: Make a paper chain with links created from every Act of Kindness your kids have performed over the past one to two weeks. By sharing our acts of kindness, we encourage more acts of kindness. Supporting each other helps to create a sense of community.

What You’ll Need:

  • Colored paper
  • Scisssors
  • Tape or glue
  • Pens or markers

Getting started: Look over your Acts of Kindness from the past week(s) and write each one on a separate strip of colored paper. Keep it simple!

For example: Saturday. Library. Held the door open for a lady carrying books and a baby. Or: Monday. Home. Made a snack for my little brother.

Have your children add each of their Acts of Kindness to the paper chain. When the Chain of Kindness is completed,  step back and let them acknowledge themselves and each other for all the kindness they added to their school/family that week.

Suggested Discussion Drivers: What has this Kindness Challenge been like for you? What reactions have people had to your acts of kindness? How might we move forward with this challenge?

Remember this Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service, every act of kindness matters.

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