“I got the gold!” blurted my 7-year-old after finishing his broccoli before anyone else at the table. “I got the silver!” said my 5-year-old. Both boys then encouraged my 2-year-old daughter to hurry up and finish her vegetables before mommy or daddy so she could win the bronze.
This ritual takes place most nights at my house ever since my children watched the 2010 Winter Olympics on TV. While we don’t actually give out any medals, my children like the distinction of being called the winner. I like the fact that they are excited to eat their vegetables.
The 2012 Summer Olympic Games will be held July 27–August 12 in London, England. Aside from being family-friendly television—and inspiration for a healthy dinnertime game—the Olympics can provide excitement, education and entertainment for the whole family.
It’s not as fun to just sit on the couch, passively watching the Olympic events—we prefer to get involved in the events. Encourage your family to embrace the Olympic spirit and join in the fun. Here are some ways to get started.
Cultivate Cultural Curiosity
More than 10,000 athletes hailing from 205 countries will compete in the 2012 Summer Olympics. Expand your family’s knowledge of the world by locating the countries on a world map. It can be eye opening for a child to realize just how many countries there are in the world, each with a rich history, people and culture. You will probably need the internet handy as little-known countries like Tuvalu, Comoros and Lesotho may make this task challenging for both children and parents.
Add to your child’s Olympic experience by exploring different nations’ cuisines. Choose a variety of ethnic meals to prepare. You could try your hand at afelia (pork marinated with coriander), a traditional food from Cyprus. Experiment with Vietnamese noodle soup, called pho. For dessert, try baking paw paw tarts—little papaya pies—a favorite of many residents of Liberia. A quick internet search will uncover many recipes for these dishes.
Pride of citizenship is evident when witnessing the Olympic athletes sporting their country’s colors, uniforms, waving flags and singing their national anthems. Watching the Olympics with your child is a good time to explain the importance of citizenship and to teach them the words to our national anthem.
Uncover Uncommon Sports
If your child’s not interested in basketball, soccer or other mainstream sports, watching the Olympics can show a world of other options to consider. Your child may develop an interest in rowing, fencing or synchronized swimming.
The 2012 Summer Olympics features 26 sports, which break down into 39 disciplines. Watching the various Olympic events on TV can introduce children to a variety of unique sports. Your child may be surprised to find out that canoeing, judo and handball are sports included in the Olympics. Similar to handball except played in water, water polo is a thrilling sport to watch. In this fast-paced event, each team is given only 30 seconds to score before the ball is given to the opposing team.
Appreciate the Athletes’ Inspiring Stories
Some athletes overcame major obstacles to be able to participate in the 2012 Summer Olympics. Before watching the events, read about some of the Olympians and how they got to where they are today.
Observing the South African sprinter, Oscar Pistorius (in pre-qualification at press time), one can immediately see he’s had obstacles to overcome in his lifetime. Born without a fibula in either leg, Pistorius had both legs amputated below the knee when he was a baby. Called the Blade Runner, he runs on two prostheses, which look like blades.
Before you tune in to see Team USA’s Sanya Richards-Ross run the 400m, inform your child that Richards-Ross suffers from a rare autoimmune disease called Behcet’s Disease. She experiences severe mouth ulcers and lesions, fatigue and joint pain.
These two Olympians didn’t let adversity overcome their passion to do what they love. Instead they powered through and never gave up.
Copy the Characteristics of an Olympian
Pistorius and Richards-Ross aren’t the only Olympians to exhibit the willpower, resolve and fortitude to excel. To get to the elite level, all Olympians must work hard and be focused and determined. This is true for any athlete who wants to succeed.
- Olympians maintain rigorous training schedules. If you get the chance, visit an Olympic training facility (see below). Take a tour and get a behind-the-scenes look at how these dedicated athletes train for their events for years prior to participating in the games.
- The Olympics can encourage children to eat healthier. Since athletes need to be healthy to be good at what they do, teach your kids to think like an Olympian when choosing what food and drink to consume.
- Olympic athletes are team players. Watching the Olympic team sports on television, such as volleyball, rowing and relay races, can emphasize how everyone needs to work together in order to win. Teamwork is evident in the Olympics and should be stressed among all children, in all aspects of life.
- Olympians are gracious in defeat. Remind your child there are only three medals given to the many participants in each sport. Most Olympic athletes end up in the middle of the pack. Teach your child that not everyone can be the best, while stressing it’s an accomplishment when athletes beat their own personal record.
Take Part in the Fun
Encourage and inspire kids to get active by staging your own mini-Olympics in your backyard. Activities can include anything from obstacle courses and running races to tumbling and badminton.
Rebecca Zellmer, a preschool teacher, helped her 4-year-old students create their own Olympic Games. “I divided the children into groups representing different countries. They participated in events and received medals. We listened to the Star Spangled Banner and learned about the different events and equipment needed.” Zellmer even helped them make their own Olympic torches out of empty toilet paper tubes and tissue paper.
Watching the Olympics with your child can be a fun, family bonding experience, but don’t just sit on the sidelines—take part in the fun. Prepare to learn a thing or two yourself as you and your child actively uncover fun facts, healthy habits and valuable life lessons.
Find updated scores and event results at the official Summer Olympics 2012 website, www.london2012.com.
Local Olympic Training Venues
In Oklahoma, visit the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Training Site at the University of Central Oklahoma (100 N University Drive, Edmond). Committed to providing athletes with physical disabilities with the resources necessary to compete at the highest level, this venue includes a 6-lane indoor swimming pool, indoor track, indoor volleyball courts and more. For more information, visit www.ucowellnesscenter.com.
Also, visit the Oklahoma City Boathouse Foundation (725 N Lincoln). This high performance, 33,000-square-foot facility provides the world’s first dynamic indoor rowing tank, indoor propulsion swim tank and more. For more information, visit www.okc-nhpc.org.
2012 Paralympic Games
The Paralympic Games will be held August 29–September 9 in London, featuring events for elite athletes with any disability. Athletes participate in classification levels according to their abilities and the rules of the sport they are participating in. According to the Paralympics website, “Classification is a unique element of Paralympic sports, intended to ensure fair competition. As each sport at the Paralympic Games requires different skills and competencies, the impact of impairment on the performance of the athletes varies. That’s why each sport has its own unique classification rules.”
The Paralympic Games include archery, athletics (track & field events), boccia, cycling (road & track), equestrian, football (5- & 7-a-side), goalball, judo, powerlifting, rowing, sailing, shooting, swimming, table tennis, sitting volleyball and wheelchair events (basketball, fencing, rugby and tennis). Learn more at www.london2012.com/paralympics/sports.
Deanne Haines is a freelance writer and mother of three from Menomonee Falls, WI.