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When teaching children under five years old about civil rights, you have to be creative. Students at Fresno EOC Head Start 0 to 5’s Dakota Circle Center spent several days leading up to Martin Luther King, Jr. Day on January 17, learning about the leadership, message, and impact of the late civil rights icon who fought in the 1950s and 1960s to end segregation through peaceful protests and nonviolent marches. Teachers provided lessons including age-appropriate books, classroom discussions, and art projects.

Mrs. Laura Cardenas, Teacher at Fresno EOC Head Start 0 to 5, shares lessons with her class on the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Teacher Laura Cardenas has 20 students in her full-day classroom, ranging from three- to five years old. Mrs. Cardenas said some of the children had not heard about Dr. King or his dream yet. “So, we had conversations about how Dr. King was friendly, caring, peace-loving, and wanted people to be treated fairly. And if you think about it, that’s what we do at Fresno EOC. So, a lot of the students were able to connect with that.”

Mrs. Cardenas shared several books about Dr. King, including “When Martin Luther King Jr. Wore Roller Skates,” which focused on his childhood. “At one point, it addressed when he was a young boy, the one place where all the kids could play, where it was not segregated, was the fire department.” Mrs. Cardenas says the books helped to make the historic figure more relatable to the children and they even asked her to read more stories about him.

Students were able to reflect on what they learned and express themselves through MLK-focused art projects. Some painted portraits of Dr. King, while others created artwork with images of the Earth along with their handprints, exploring how they might be able to make the world a better place. Mrs. Cardenas shared that one child came up with his own way to celebrate Dr. King. “We had this one little boy; he really internalized that it was going to be Martin Luther King’s birthday. And we have these little magnetic blocks that you can put together, and he made a birthday cake. And he says, ‘I need the picture of King, so I can sing happy birthday to him!'”

Mrs. Cardenas adds, nearly 60 years after his “I Have a Dream” speech, Dr. King’s work is apparent at Head Start 0 to 5’s Dakota Circle location in Fresno. “This center has a wide variety of teachers who come from different backgrounds and experiences, made possible in large part because Dr. King fought for desegregation.” She also points to the men and women of all races who volunteer to visit classrooms across Fresno County and mentor children as part of the Fresno EOC Foster Grandparent Program. “We’re really fortunate to have a foster grandma who comes to our classroom,” said Mrs. Cardenas. “The kids are able to learn about diversity and how times were different when our foster grandparent was a child, because she grew up in those times of segregation.”

Mrs. Cardenas says the special focus on Dr. King’s work will continue through February, which is Black History Month, with teachings about other civil rights leaders, including Rosa Parks, best known for her role in the Montgomery bus boycott.

About Fresno EOC Head Start 0 to 5

Head Start 0 to 5 is a federally funded community-based program for income eligible pregnant women and children ages birth to five, inclusive of children with disabilities. We provide comprehensive child development and family support services, including education, social, emotional, health, nutrition, family support, and disability services. Head Start 0 to 5 is committed to building strong children and families.

Our goals are:

  • to promote healthy prenatal outcomes for pregnant women
  • to enhance the development of children ages birth to five
  • to promote healthy family functioning


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