Let the games begin

Make Olympic-size memorieswith your kids


Teresa Dankowski

For two weeks every two years, an opportunity to learn, play and have fun with your kids comes along—the Olympic Games. Next up: the Winter Olympics, Feb. 10-26 in Torino, Italy.

The Olympics are a great way to teach kids about setting goals, perseverance and competition. But they’re also an international celebration, which makes the games a great way to introduce kids to the many cultures of the world.

Here are some tips for making the time meaningful for your family and keeping the Olympic spirit alive in your kids:

 Prepare your Parthenon. Take advantage of the weeks before the Olympics to get your kids ready for the event. And what better way to create anticipation than with an Olympic countdown?

Spend a day now helping kids make a construction paper chain to use as their count-down calendar. Help younger children glue or tape strips of paper in Olympic colors—blue, yellow, black, red and green—to make a chain, with a link for each day until the games begin. Invite older kids to research Olympic events, find interesting Winter Olympic facts and write one on each link. The next day, the countdown can start. Make it a daily ritual to cut a link and read a fact.

Don’t forget to decorate the house, too. Give kids materials for making flags, banners, maps and mascots for their own Olympics. Take a trip to the library to check out books about the history of the Olympics or different countries of the world. Or, if your kids want to learn about a particular Winter Olympic sport, check out www.usolympicteam.com/kids for facts, games and coloring pages. While much of the trivia refers to the last Winter Games in Salt Lake City, Utah, this Web site has lots of valuable information—and can probably do a better job of explaining the sport of "curling" to your kids than you can.

 Pass the torch. Get your friends and neighbors involved in your Olympic celebration with an opening ceremonies parade. Use a decorated flashlight or paper towel roll with a tissue paper flame as a torch and bring along the Olympic or national flags your kids have made. Equip kids with "passports" for their parade, and ask your neighbors to put a stamp or sticker in their passport notepads as they stop along the way. After everyone’s had a chance to be a torch bearer—and before the noses begin to run—lead your marchers back home for some hot cocoa. Plan your parade for Feb. 9 so you can be settled in front of the television on Feb. 10 to watch the spectacular Opening Ceremonies Parade of Nations.

 Stay in an Olympic Village. Construct your own Olympic Village in the family room. Create a sense of global convergence by sprawling out the sleeping bags, hanging flags and using sheets and clothes pins to make tents. Then, invite friends and relatives to bring their own international displays for a sleepover in the "Village." This sleepover is perfect for Feb. 10, the night the opening ceremonies in Turin are televised. Kids can tune in together to learn the rich history and watch the awesome pageantry. Use the experience to launch discussions about the international diversity in your Olympic Village.

 Go for the gold, play in the white. If there’s enough snow on the ground, get kids moving with an outdoor Olympic competition. Anything goes, but the key is to pick events that offer everyone a chance to excel. Vary the competition with athletic, creative and team events. Some suggestions are sled races, ice skating routines, a snowy long jump (leaps can be measured by footprints, of course), a snowball target toss and a snowman or snow sculpture contest. If you’re looking for a place to skate, check out Chicago Parent Going Places Holiday 2005 edition (www.goingplaceschicago.com) for a complete listing.

If competing against one another deflates your kids’ spirits, encourage them to strive for a personal best. Set up an obstacle course and time your Olympians individually with a stop watch. Let the kids run the course as many times as they want, competing against themselves for a faster time. Your junior athletes will be setting goals without realizing it.

 Compete indoors. When it’s too cold to go outside, host a living room decathlon. Cut out the inside circle of paper plates and let kids color them in the Olympic ring colors. Then use the plates in a ring toss game that won’t hurt the house. Set up a measuring tape for a cotton ball throw, an event that levels the competitive playing field between big and small. An Olympic trivia contest is a good way to give your scholars their due. Quiz kids on how to say hello in different languages, the location of competing countries and even mathematical word problems related to the games.

Or, if you want to get some work done, set up a Chore Olympics, which could include races to see who can make a bed the fastest or put away the most folded clothes. Remember: neatness counts. When the glory of an Olympic title is on the line, don’t underestimate your kids’ willingness to clean.

 Relive the glory. An Olympic film festival is another great choice for a blustery day. At the top of every family’s list should be "Cool Runnings," a charming modern classic based on the story of the birth of the Jamaican bobsled team. Older kids might enjoy "Miracle," a more dramatic movie that recounts the 1980 U.S. men’s hockey team’s upset victory over the Soviet Union team.

Though there aren’t too many films specifically about the Winter Olympics, you can still put your family in the Olympic mood with movies about cold weather sports. "The Mighty Ducks," "Ice Princess" and "Snow Dogs" are good primers for your ice hockey players, figure skaters, and yes, dog sled racers in training. Don’t forget to throw in some real history while you’re at it. Look for documentaries or archived footage of the Olympics at your local library. You might find that watching real athletes compete does a better job than Disney of inspiring your young ones.

 Take the Olympic challenge. Encourage your kids to start a training program during the Olympics. This could be something as simple as jumping jacks and toe touches, or for the older set, push ups and sit ups. Set up a chart to record their exercises, and see if they can gradually do more over the two weeks. This isn’t designed to exhaust your kids, but to show the stamina required to be a good athlete. If your kids have a favorite sport, help them find out what the athletes who play that sport eat before a big event. Use that to teach your kids how a balanced diet plays into the training equation.

 Dine globally. Pizza and falafel may not be on an Olympian’s table, but it’s what their supporters back home eat. Use the international flavor of the Olympics to encourage picky eaters to explore new foods. Try a healthy ethnic recipe from one of the countries participating in the games. Homemade pizza, vegetable stir fry and rice and beans are simple dishes that can generate interest in Europe, Asia and the Americas. Introduce your kids to Mediterranean fare such as hummus, falafel and stuffed grape leaves in a tribute to Greece, the country that started the Olympic tradition. For more ideas, check out www.recipesource.com/ethnic.

 Go for the photo finish. Take candid photos of your kids engaging in Olympic activities. Or aim for the more memorable shots of kids staging goofy poses for the camera. Have your ski bums put on heavy winter jackets, swim goggles and headbands, wrapping paper tube ski poles in hand, and pose as if they’re ready to start their run down the slopes. Get your future bobsledders to don bike helmets and pajamas and sit in the bathtub for a team photo. (Bonus points if you can fit four kids in the tub.) The possibilities to be silly are endless. And when you finish, you’ll have great pictures for an Olympic photo album.

 Say goodbye (until Beijing). At last, the medal ceremony. Plan this for Feb. 26, in tandem with the actual closing ceremonies. Painted cardboard medals and ribbon make for lovely (and simple) awards. But instead of awarding gold, silver and bronze, try to recognize your kids’ specific accomplishments in a creative way. An award in the shape of a question mark might go to the kid who answered the most Olympic trivia questions. The star snow jumper might get her medal in the shape of a footprint. As an added touch, ask kids to pick out their own "national anthem" music to play when they’re crowned with their awards. Even though you won’t be awarding gold medals, the idea is to make every kid feel like they’ve struck gold.

Keep in mind, you won’t have another opportunity to make these memories with your kids until the Summer Olympics return in 2008 in Beijing—and the snowy stuff will have to wait even longer.

Teresa Dankowski is a student at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism and a former Chicago Parent intern.


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