“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 and daddy so she could win the bronze medal.
This ritual has taken place most nights at my house ever since my children watched the 2010 Winter Olympics on TV. While we don’t give out any medals in my family, my young children like the distinction of being called the winner. Personally, I like the fact that they are excited to eat their vegetables.
The 2012 Summer Olympic Games begin on July 27 and run through August 12 in London, England. Besides being family-friendly television — and inspiration for a healthy dinnertime game — the Olympics can provide excitement, education and entertainment for the whole family.
There’s no need to just sit on the couch watching the Olympic events, however. 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 child’s (and your own) knowledge of the world by locating the countries on a world map together. It can be eye-opening for a child to realize how many countries there are in the world, each with its own history, people and culture. You will probably need the Internet handy as little-known countries like Tuvalu, Comoros and Lesotho can 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) which is a traditional food athletes from Cyprus may eat. Experiment with some Vietnamese noodle soup, called pho. Or if your family likes something sweet, try baking paw paw tarts — little papaya pies that are a favorite in Liberia.
Pride of citizenship is evident when witnessing the Olympic athletes sporting their country’s colors, waving their 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 the national anthem.
Uncover uncommon sports.
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 the water, water polo is a thrilling sport to watch. In this fast-action event, each team is given only 30 seconds to score before the ball is turned over to the opposing team.
If your child’s not interested in basketball, soccer or other mainstream sports, watching the Olympics can show there is a myriad of sports one can pursue. Your child may develop an interest in rowing, fencing or synchronized swimming.
Appreciate the athletes’ inspiring stories.
Some athletes overcame major obstacles 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, 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 400-meter race, 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. Take a tour and get a behind-the-scenes look at how these dedicated athletes train.
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.
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 — whether in sports or other areas of life.
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, has fun helping her 4-year-old students create their own Olympic Games. “I divide the children into groups representing different countries. They participate in events and receive medals. We listen to the Star Spangled Banner and learn about the different events and equipment needed.” Zellmer even helps 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.
Deanne Haines is a freelance writer and mother of three from Menomonee Falls, WI.