I got the gold!” blurted my 7-year-old after finishing his broccoli before everyone else at the table. “I got the silver!” shouted my 5-year-old. Both boys then encouraged their little sister to hurry up and finish her vegetables before Mommy and Daddy so she could win the bronze medal.
This ritual has taken place at my house since my kids watched the 2010 Winter Olympics on TV. We don’t give out actual medals, but they really like the distinction of being the winner. (Personally, I like the fact that they’re excited to eat their vegetables.)
In addition to being family-friendly television–and inspiration for a fun and healthy dinnertime game–the Olympics can provide excitement, education and entertainment for the whole family. Prepare to learn a thing or two yourself as you and your children uncover fun facts, adopt healthy habits, and learn valuable life lessons.
The Olympics cultivate cultural curiosity in children –>
Cultivate cultural curiosity
More than 10,000 athletes, hailing from 205 countries, will compete in the 2012 Summer Olympics. Expand your child’s knowledge of the world by locating the countries on a world map together. It can be eye opening for a child to realize just how many countries there are in the world, each with its own history, people, and culture. Keep your laptop or iPad handy; little-known countries like Tuvalu, Comoros, and Lesotho make this task challenging for children and parents.
Add to your child’s Olympic experience by exploring different nations’ cuisines. Prepare a variety of ethnic meals. You could try your hand at afelia, pork marinated with coriander, which is a traditional food athletes from Cyprus may eat. Experiment with Vietnamese noodle soup, called pho. If your family likes sweets, bake Liberian paw paw tarts—little papaya pies.
Pride of citizenship is evident when witnessing the Olympic athletes sporting their country’s colors, uniforms, waving their flags and singing their national anthems. Watching the Olympics with your child is a good time to explain the importance of citizenship and to teach them the words to the national anthem.
Kids can learn about uncommon sports –>
Uncover uncommon sports
The 2012 Summer Olympics features 26 sports that break down into 39 disciplines, which means watching the various Olympic events on TV is likely to introduce your children to a host of unique sports. For the child who isn’t interested in basketball, soccer, or other mainstream sports, watching the Olympics opens up a whole new world of sports to explore. Your child might develop an interest in rowing, fencing, or synchronized swimming.
Appreciate the athletes’ inspiring stories
Some athletes overcame major obstacles to be able to participate in the 2012 Summer Olympics. Before watching the events, read about some of the men and women and how they got to where they are today.
Oscar Pistorius, an accomplished track and field athlete, will make history this summer as the first double amputee to compete in the Olympics. The South African sprinter was born without a fibula in either leg; when he was just a baby, both of his legs were amputated below the knee. Today, he runs on two prostheses that look like blades, earning him the nickname of “Blade Runner.” His story is one of unbelievable determination and accomplishment.
Sanya Richards-Ross runs the 400m race for Team USA. She suffers from a rare autoimmune disease, called Behcet’s Disease, which causes severe mouth ulcers and lesions, fatigue and joint pain. But she doesn’t let that stop her from competing—and hopefully winning.
These two athletes didn’t let adversity overcome their passion to do what they love. Instead they powered through and never gave up.
Emulate an Olympian –>
Copy the characteristics of an Olympian
Pistorius and Richards-Ross aren’t the only athletes to exhibit the willpower, resolve and fortitude to excel. To get to the elite level, all Olympians must work hard and be focused and determined. This is true for any athlete who wants to succeed.
The Olympics can encourage children to eat healthier, too. Athletes need to be healthy to be good at what they do. Teach your kids to think like an Olympian when choosing what food and drink to consume.
Watching the Olympic team sports, such as volleyball, rowing, and relay races, can emphasize how everyone needs to work together in order to win. Teamwork is evident in the Olympics and should be stressed among all children—in in sports and other areas of life.
Remind your child there are only three medals given to the many participants in each sport. Most Olympic athletes end up in the middle of the pack. Teach your child that not everyone can be the best, while stressing it’s an accomplishment when athletes beat their own personal record.
Does your family know the New Jersey Olympic athletes? Find out who they are –>
New Jersey Athletes to Watch
Name: Christine Rampone
Event: Women’s Soccer
Name: Jordan Burroughs
Event: Freestyle Wrestling
Name: Matt Emmons
Name: Caroline Lind
Name: Mary Whipple
Name: Susan Francia
Deanne Haines is a freelance writer and mother of three vegetable-eating winners.
Photos on pages 1-4 courtesy of IOC. Photos on page 5 courtesy of Mitchell Haaseth/NBC Olympics.