Everyday the Olympics is offering so much to talk about with the kids. Tragedy, joy, teamwork, disappointment, cheesy Canadiana. It’s just a smorgasbord of teachable moments, and I say this as a non-sports obsessed family.
The truth is I do find the Olympic spirit catchy but that doesn’t mean that we haven’t already had some debates about the meaning of the “Olympic spirit” in our house. My son and I got into a debate about whether the Canadian women hockey team went too far in their overwhelming 18 to 0 win against Slovakia. I thought that by Goal 10 the Canadians should have eased up on the opposing team; my son felt that they should take every opportunity in front of them and that they need the ice time to compete against the U.S. . He was especially impressed that the Canadian women set a new Olympic record for most goals scored, I thought that the women went overboard. But in the end it was a good example of what it means to be team looking for gold. And I am sure that there will be many, many more lessons to come:
Learning about Canada: it is a chance to see Vancouver and the west coast in the best light. In fact, it is a chance to see our whole country from a new perspective including how other countries see us, but also how the media creates and packages stories on Canada.
Geography: admit it, when you were watching the Opening Ceremonies there were countries you didn’t know about but the Internet makes it easy to find out about them.
Science and Math: Winter sports are a daily lesson in weather, physiology, kinesiology and of course, gravity. Creating charts of the the winners, making a tree diagram of the hockey round robin are all good math activities.
Patriotism: The athletes often talk passionately of their desire to win a medal and hear the national anthem played on the podium. And it is a proud moment for all the viewers (see next point) when that flag goes up, especially since we have very few opportunities to show patriotism without the imagery of war and violence.
The Importance of Winning: Another debate we have had around our house is the importance of getting Gold medals. The Canadian Olympic committee has put a lot of pressure on the athletes to “Own the Podium” , replacing the old Canadian ethos of achieving a personal best. But the question I ask my kids ( to the growing annoyance of my husband) is: does winning gold medals define us as a country? How about the fact that we provide health care and accept people of different cultures, doesn’t how we live everyday define us more? To which my son answers: No. We have to win the gold medal in hockey or else we suck.”
Teamwork and Sportsmanship: I am always amazed at the stories on the sidelines, the way the athletes support each other after a great win, or a disappointing loss. To me, the Olympic spirit lies in the pure joy the athletes have in their sport, no matter who wins or scores the winning goal. And there will also be examples of athletes treating each other badly.I think the real life examples that will have more resonance than the lectures in the car after soccer practice.
Sacrifice: The tragic death of the Georgian luger was a disturbing start to the games, and one that the kids may find hard to shake. When talking about tragedy, it is important to recognize that kids’ questions about death often refer to their own sense of security. The personal costs of being a great athlete are important, kids should be aware that Olympians didn’t just win the genetic lottery they have given up a lot and worked hard to get where they are.
New Sports: Sure there is that little thing called hockey. But some of the joys of the Olympics is watching sports that you don’t see the rest of the time and you will most likely never ever do unless you count ski jumping and Shaun White on the Wii.
Family Time: Yes, it’s in front of the TV but even the youngest kids can catch the feeling of excitement and pride in watching a Canadian race down a hill. Watching the Olympics can be the basis for many good memories. If you want to get away from the TV, there are Olympic-themed activities for kids including crafts, parties and a fun backyard Olympics.
VANOC has a good website for younger kids about the Olympic mascots with some games.Olympic Mascots:
And when Olympic fatigue hits around day 12, just repeat to yourself: I don’t have to do this again for two more years…