change the world

A Day to Think About How You Can Change the World

Nelson Mandela International Day is a day to remember that each person can have an impact on the world. It is observed on Mandela’s birthday, July 18, each year, and it has been celebrated officially since 2010. While Nelson Mandela was a controversial figure, he did indeed positively change the world, and your kids can learn good things from his historical work in South Africa.

The purpose of Mandela Day is not to be a huge public holiday. Instead, it is a day to honor Mandela’s legacy and his values through community service. It’s a day to think about how you too could change the world, even in a small way.

Who was Nelson Mandela?

Nelson Mandela was a native South African born in 1918. He was able to go to school, and he became a lawyer. When apartheid laws went into effect in 1948, he started fighting against them. Since this was technically anti-government activity, he was arrested several times. After his arrest in 1962, he received a sentence for life imprisonment.

He was in prison for 27 years. During this time, there was increasing conflict in South Africa over apartheid, and there was pressure from the rest of the world as well. In 1990, the president of South Africa released Mandela, and they then worked together to end apartheid. This resulted in a multiracial general election in 1994, which Mandela won. He served for 5 years, during which he worked on reconciliation between the country’s racial groups. At the end of his term, he declined a second term, and then he took on other humanitarian efforts. 

How to observe Mandela Day

Throughout the years, it’s been said that we should each give 67 minutes of the day, based on Nelson Mandela’s 67 years of fighting for human rights. During these 67 minutes, we could do any kind of community service, either in an official capacity or something that we come up with ourselves. The point is to help someone, to support or give to someone, or to raise awareness about human rights and justice.

Of course, the 67 minutes thing is only a suggestion. With your children, you could take a few days to learn about Mandela and to decide on some way to help someone. You can choose whatever amount of time that will work for your kids.


Check your library to find some children’s books about Nelson Mandela. Here are some good books to look for.

Nelson Mandela by Kadir Nelson – recommended for age 4 and up. This book has beautiful pictures. You could also use it as a read-aloud for younger kids.

Grandad Mandela by Zazi, Ziwelene, and Zindzi Mandela, Nelson Mandela’s daughter and great-grandchildren. It is very child-friendly in its discussion of civil rights.

Nelson Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, abridged by Chris Van Wyk, is a children’s version of Mandela’s autobiography. It’s recommended for readers age 6 and up, but again, you can preview it and decide if it would be a good read aloud. 

Who Was Nelson Mandela? by Meg Belviso and Pam Pollack. The Who Was…? Series is a favorite for my kids. For independent readers, it’s recommended for age 8 and up, but again, you could use it as a longer read-aloud.

And then do something

Talk to your kids about ways to change the world for the better. Encourage them to think about people they know or issues that they care about. If you need ideas, the Mandela Day website has ideas here, like cleaning up around your neighborhood, doing yard work for someone in need, writing encouraging notes to teachers or community workers, or picking up groceries or medicine for an elderly friend. It doesn’t take much to make the world a better place for someone. So help your kids think about what they can do and ways that they can help.

change the world

As you work on your plan for Mandela Day activities, you can help your kids learn some new signs. We have lots of actions in the Actions Section of our Signing Time Dictionary. You can learn the signs for go, help, learn, make, read, remember, share, together, or work. And remember that we can all make a difference in our world!

Check out our character building, educational programming at My Signing Time. With a digital subscription, you can access My Signing Time anytime from any device. Try it out here today with a 14-day free trial!

Scroll to Top