The Summer Olympics begin in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on Friday night. The 306 events held over 19 days of competition present a lot of educational opportunities.
Geography and countries from around the world
The Opening Ceremony and the athletic competitions can be a great way to teach kids about countries from around the globe. Have a globe or atlas handy and have kids look up countries to see where they are located. It can also be a good time to learn about hemispheres, continents and the equator, which runs through the northern part of Brazil.
Get a group of kids together for an Opening or Closing Ceremony party, with each child representing a different country by making a flag or dressing in the colors of the flag and cheering when that the athletes from that country enter the stadium.
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 after it’s played at a medal ceremony.
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.
There are many sciences lessons to learn in the Olympics. Nothing illustrates gravity quite like the 10m platform diving competition. You can also talk about velocity, friction and aerodynamics. NBC has some videos about the science behind the Summer Olympics 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. If your child is interested in biographies, check out “Who Was Jesse Owens?” By James Buckley Jr. and “Nadia: The Girl Who Couldn’t Sit Still” by Karlin Gray.
Magic Tree House fans can check out “Hour of the Olympics” by Mary Pope Osborne and the non-fiction companion, “Ancient Greece and the Olympics.”
Older kids can read articles online and in the paper about their favorite sports and athletes. For practice writing, have them write their own news story about one of the competitions.
“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.
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.