5 Timeless Lessons :: Teaching Children With the Words of Martin Luther King Jr.


Few names are remembered through the ages of time, but among those names that are carried over the generations, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. has to be one of my favorites. This enduring name belonged to a timeless man whose messages resonated not just during his generation but are held solid even today.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was born on January 15, 1929, in Atlanta. His birth is celebrated on the third Monday in January.

With ringing sentiments such as “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that” and “An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity,” Dr. King gave us many lessons to learn and to teach our children. His messages touch on hope, love, equality, leadership, courage, faith, and service to others.

Aside from teaching my children about the civil rights movement and how Dr. King helped to transform and fight for equality, I use Dr. King’s famous quotes to teach lessons at home. I turn his words into small, inspiring teaching moments. From bullying to math and spelling homework, I try to relate these quotes to their lives right now.

Here’s a list of a few of my favorites and how you can use them to teach your children some important lessons on life.


Quote: “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is ‘What are you doing for others?'”

The Martin Luther King, Jr., memorial was dedicated in August 2011 in Washington, D.C.

Teaching Moment: Many children today have yet to learn that there is a bigger world out there aside from playrooms brimming with toys and birthday party extravaganzas. Children can learn so much when they are able to connect to and participate in helping others, especially other children who may be less fortunate than them. Participating in toy drives or helping to feed the homeless can open their eyes to a world of service.


Quote: “The time is always right, to do what is right.”

Teaching Moment: Use this quote to talk about honesty and the value of not lying. Talk to your child about the positive feelings that can come when you are doing the right thing, even if it’s not the popular thing to do. Used to talk about bullying, it could make the difference between your child being a sideline watcher or being an individual who helps prevent bullying. It’s a perfect quote even for my preschooler, who is learning about listening and paying attention in school.


Quote: “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.”

Teaching Moment: For a youth, this would be the ultimate lesson in a bullying scenario. It reminds me of an article I read about a teen who, instead of succumbing to the hateful and hurtful things that were being said about her (she was told to “die”), instead choose to write messages of love and hope on sticky notes and place them around her school for every student. What a powerful way to transform her enemies!


Quote: “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”

Dr. King speaking in Washington, D.C., in August 1963

Teaching Moment: I remember one day my 7-year-old coming home from school with tears in her eyes and her classwork in her hand. She had worked her hardest to try and complete her assignment, but it was too difficult. On top of that, most of the problems she had completed were wrong. Sitting down at the table to do homework that evening, she was carrying the weight of the world in disappointment on her shoulders. She couldn’t see past her disappointment to even attempt to correct her classwork yet alone do homework. These kinds of moments are when our children really need us to rise to the occasion. What a great teaching moment to talk about disappointment but never giving up hope. For us, we talk about practice making perfect and encouraging her to always see her own value rather than beating herself up from discouragement.


Quote: “If you can’t fly, then run; if you can’t run, then walk; if you can’t walk, then crawl; but whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward.”

Teaching Moment: Teaching your child to never give up is so important. Our children will one day have to face this big and scary (at times) world on their own. They will have days of failure, rejection and sadness; and occasionally they will have to watch their dreams float away. But the last thing we would ever want for our children is to see them give up hope and stop striving. Right now, for our children, it might mean giving that book report or project all they’ve got; but later it could mean so much more. Talk with your child now about finding the positive in situations and looking for ways to solve problems rather than staying stuck in them.


Want resources to give your child a general idea of who Dr. King was and what he stood for? Here’s a great video that does just that.

How do you teach your children about Martin Luther King? Share in the comments.

Thumbnail and pinnable images: WilliamMarlow / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA
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Stephanie never pictured herself as a mother to multiple kids, but now that she’s “that mom” she couldn’t feel more blessed! Her stay-at-home mom days aren’t always easy, but she believes parenting gives us the opportunity to heal, change, and grow more spiritually aware. She loves reading, writing, and discussing topics related to soul searching and how to get past our own personal struggles, as well as the History channel….you know, the fast life! Stephanie is the mother to three active children, ages 6, 4 and 1, and has been married to her husband Travis for 6 years. She enjoys all the city has to offer for mommy’s and children, including group play dates, playgrounds, and lately the gym, where she can get fit and the kids have an opportunity to play (a win-win!). Having lived in Columbia for the past 19 years, she considers herself a native at this point.


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