If your family is like mine, you will all be glued to the television during the first few weeks of August, soaking up every possible minute of the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. Don't worry: You're not going to get a lecture from me about screen time limits or wasting precious summer days in front of a TV. I absolutely love the Olympics and everything they represent. To me, the games are not only about sports but also community, global unity and amazing feats of perseverance and dedication.
Still, as a homeschooling mom, I'm not one to let my kids plop in front of the TV for weeks on end without at least putting a little thought into what's on the screen. Fortunately, the Olympics offer so many unique and fascinating learning opportunities that it's easy to sneak in some summer learning while cheering on our favorite athletes. Here are a few ways to get started:
1. Geography: This is the obvious one. Keep a map nearby and help your kids find the host country as well as the countries of each athlete competing. A friend once told me that she challenged her kids to learn the capitals for the home countries of all of the athletes in events they watched. After two weeks they could rattle off those capitals with ease.
2. Math: Whenever my kids ask me when they will use a certain math trick in real life, I point to sports. Every event at the Olympics is math word problem in the making. Athletes compete against the clock, travel measured distances or struggle to amass the most (or fewest) points. Kids can convert miles to kilometers in the marathon, create charts of world record times for swimming, practice subtracting deductions in gymnastics, calculate miles per hour in cycling or talk about geometry in archery. The possibilities are infinite.
3. History: Make a timeline of Olympic events and when they became part of the games. Check out this history of gymnastics for inspiration. Delve into the story of the first Olympic games in ancient Greece. Or talk to your kids about any one of these amazing moments in Olympic history and how they changed the world, such as when the first female athletes were allowed to compete in 1900 in Paris, or when Jesse Owens won several gold medals at the 1936 games in Germany and how it destroyed Hitler's rhetoric about the "new Aryan man."
4. Social studies (political science): The Olympics offer an amazing opportunity for the world to come together in support of their favorite athletes and sports. This doesn't mean that the issues of the world are entirely left behind, however. Throughout history, major Olympic moments have shined the spotlight on the political issues of the day. Here are just a few of these moments you can use a springboard into larger conversations about world issues with your kids:
- 1968, Mexico City: Sprinters John Carlos and Tommie Smith raised their fists in a Black Power salute during the medal ceremony. It was a gesture that sent shock waves through the Olympic community and brought the American civil rights movement to the forefront.
- 1972, Munich: 11 Israeli athletes were taken hostage and subsequently killed by Palestinian terrorists.
- 1980, Moscow: The U.S. boycotted the Olympics to protest the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
- 2000, Sydney: North and South Korea marched together for the first time in Olympic history. Athletes from both teams held hands while carrying a unified Korean flag and wearing identical uniforms.
- 2016, Rio: 10 athletes will compete under the Olympic flag on the first ever Refugee Olympic Team.
5. Reading: Oh, the possibilities! There are so many awesome books about the Olympics, Brazil, Rio, athletic events and the Olympic athletes that Amazon has an entire section dedicated to it. Try "Throw Like a Girl" by softball Olympian Jennie Finch, "Who Was Jesse Owens?" by James Buckley or "Raising the Bar" by Olympic gymnast Gabrielle Douglas. Older kids might like "The Boys in the Boat" by Daniel James Brown, "Unbroken" by Laura Hillenbrand or "Rome 1960" by David Maraniss.
6. Science: The amazing achievements of the human body are on full display during the Olympics so there is no better time to teach kids about their own bodies and all of the systems that work together to help them run, jump, swim and move. And don't forget about all of the rich biodiversity in and around Brazil. Kids can learn about weather patterns, the Amazon rain forest, endangered species or alternative fuels (Brazil is the second-largest producer of ethanol in the world).