The 23rd Winter Olympic Games are underway in PyeongChang, South Korea, and the Opening Ceremony is tomorrow. The 102 events across 15 sports present both times of great excitement and numerous teachable moments. Here are a few ways to take full advantage of the educational opportunities presented and make watching the Winter Olympics educational.
There are many sciences lessons to learn in the Olympics. NBC has videos on the science of the Winter Olympics, from how friction is everything in curling to the aerial physics behind aerial skiing to why and how competition suits give athletes an edge, here.
You can find great videos on the science of hockey, from Newton’s Laws of Motion to kinematics, here.
Geography and countries from around the world
The Opening Ceremony and the athletic competitions can be a great way to learn about countries from around the globe. Have a globe or atlas handy and have kids look up countries to see where they are located. Make it a family event, and have kids see you learning about countries with which you are unfamiliar.
It can also be a good time to learn about hemispheres, continents and the equator, as well as climate. This is likely to be the coldest Winter Olympics on record, according to the Washington Post. In contrast, the Winter Olympics held in Sochi, Russia were the warmest.
Help kids research a country’s flag and national symbols online to understand why their uniforms are certain colors, or check out the words to their national anthem when it is played at a medal ceremony.
This is also a great chance to learn about Korean culture and cuisine. (If you’re looking for family-friendly Korean restaurants in Chicago, find suggestions here. And H Mart, which has locations near many major cities, including Houston, San Diego, New York, Boston and Washington, D.C., is a good option.)
You can vary the challenge of math skills based on the age of your children. For younger ones, use the medal count to practice addition and subtraction. Have them figure out how many medals the U.S. is ahead or behind in the medal count compared to other nations.
There are a lot of units of measurement used in Olympic competition. They range from the miles of the marathon to the meters in the pool and the feet and inches (and quarter inches) of the long jump. You can also learn about weight in the weightlifting and wrestling competitions. Comparing the different sports is a great way to introduce kids to the different kinds of measurement. It’s also a chance to talk about the Metric System that many countries use versus the older Imperial System used in the United States.
Looking for a real world illustration of the importance of place value in terms of tenths, hundredths and thousandths of numbers that people care a lot about? The Olympics are for you (and kids who try to say it doesn’t matter). Whether it’s points or seconds, the tiniest fractions of seconds make all the difference in the world in Olympic competition.
Older kids can explore more complex concepts, such as the parabolas of the ski jump. Fine a video on how geometry, specifically angles, make all the difference in hockey here.
There are some great books about the Olympics for younger kids, including “G is for Gold Medal: An Olympics Alphabet” by Brad Herzog and “Olympig!” by Victoria Jamieson. Or check out the Kid’s Guide to the 2018 Winter Games by Jack L. Roberts.
Older kids can read articles about their favorite sports and athletes. For practice writing, have them start a blog on their view of the Olympics, sharing thoughts on favorite events and athletes.
“In the name of all competitors, I promise that we shall take part in these Olympic Games, respecting and abiding by the rules that govern them, in the true spirit of sportsmanship, for the glory of sport and the honor of our teams.” – The Olympic Oath
The Olympics are full of life lessons, and both the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat are full of teachable moments for our kids. The Olympic Oath illustrates that sportsmanship matters a great deal. Point out the perseverance and grit needed to train for Olympic competition. Ask your kids to find examples of competitors supporting their teammates and competitors from other nations. See if they can spot someone who was a good loser.
You can also have kids look for ways that the competitors respect judges and their coaches.
Many of the life lessons are also explored in movies about the Winter Olympics – you can find my family’s favorites here.
The Olympics may be a great opportunity to explain to young ones that not every competitor will medal, and why that’s okay. After watching an event, ask your kids what their takeaways are; you may be surprised that the life lessons that they find on their own.
There are also examples of perseverance, courage, determination and dedication, all things we would be happy to see from our kids.
Hope you enjoy watching the Winter Olympics with your family and here’s hoping that your favorite athletes bring home the gold!
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