This summer, the Summer Olympics are rocking London. The Olympics are a fascinating source of cultural history. They also present some great summer opportunities for families. The marketing machine will be clamoring at a full din before you know it, so most kids will be aware of the Games shortly if they are not already following the lead-up.
Little of the marketing will get your kids doing anything, though (unless you pick up the nifty Great Britain Legos). And, by now, most of your kids are out of school looking for something to do. So, if you are looking for summer activities for your kids I have a few suggestions that will get them up and moving and exploring history and the world!
Below, are three ideas for themed exploration. Try one or all of them! Included are “Resources” that include links to website–some of these have books or DVDs for purchase, others have films provided. I did not include specific offline resources for convenience, but they do exist, so check out your local library.
The Greek Olympics
Revisit the past! The Greeks participated in Olympic Games for religious reasons and political pride. The Greeks took it very seriously! Winners were heroes; losers disgraced their city-states. There were many events especially in what we would describe as field and track events, today. One of the most important was the Pentathalon: long jump, discus throw, javelin throw, sprint and wrestling match.
Use the period during which the Games are running and host a Greek festival! After having the kids explore the ancient Greek Olympics via the web or through DVDs or books, collaborate with them to design events for a Greek festival family or neighborhood Olympics. Work it in and around the schedule of events that folks want to watch and serve classical Greek food (or modern Greek food, if you must, after all we love our baklava).
These resources either focus specifically on the Greek Olympics or include them in more general discussions about the history of the Olympic Games. While it is likely to expect that many of your standard documentary channels will ramp up coverage as the games approach, there are already some programs available.
Perseus Digital Library Project
The Ancient Olympics
The Olympic Games
2012 Summer Olympics
Registration for educational materials
History for Kids
Food in Ancient Greece
History of Greek Food Blog
History of Greek Food
The Modern Games
While the above focuses on the ancient history of the games, the Games are also an opportunity to focus on modern history. In fact, the Olympic Games provide a really unique and informative means for studying some of modern history’s events and conflicts, because the Olympic Games are such an important international stage for competition.
Some of the famous moments include Hitler’s Olympics in Berlin–the same Games in which Jesse Owens dominated the track and field events–preceding World War II, the Cold War Games, the Munich Games in 1972, and China’s games in the last Summer Olympics. These Olympic Games, being of the modern era, include many of the sports that are still played, today (although the selection of the Games varies year to year).
Once you’ve spent some time looking at all of the challenges involved in the Games, induced by politics and conflict, perhaps the best way to celebrate is with a community sporting event collaboratively hosted by the neighborhood association, church, civic group or other community group. Have an international potluck, organize some games, and enjoy the day.
Depending on how great the desire is to make it an educational event, families can pick participating countries and look at the current news from that country, answering questions such as: what’s going on politically, how are international relations with other countries, what are the relations like within the host country of “Great Britain,” in which the individual countries that make of up Great Britain are competing as one team? At the potluck there can be an informational poster-board, international food, etc.
Many of the same resources above, are also useful for the history of the Olympic Games in the modern era. Below, I’ve added more sources on recent history and the Games.
(This site provides a review and link to a number of useful sites on the topic and may well add an additional set of resources as Games approach.)
Amateur Athletic Foundation Digital Archive
Triumph: Jesse Owens and Hitler’s Olympics
Doping for Gold
Politics and the Olympics
Olympic Oral Histories
Routledge Online Studies on the Olympic and Paraolympic Games
Jesse Owens radio Interviews from Olympic Games 1936
Sports Illustrated Vault
March 3, 1980 issue
Indonesia Puts on its Games of the Newly Emerging Forces – December 2, 1963
When the Terror Began – August 26, 2002
Gleanings From a Troubled Time – December 25, 1972
The International Games
Of course, one can simply take the time to delve into the international culture of the Olympic Games and highlight different countries and their athletes. This can be less historical and more of a modern survey for your family, though history can still be included.
There are different ways to do this:
- Make individual country profiles for each day of the Games (family members can help with this)
- Have international dinners during the days of the Games and at each meal recap that country’s accomplishments from that day of the Games, or create a running score board for the countries you chose in advance
- Assign each family member a particular country to investigate, follow and share with the rest of the family
- Host an Olympic Games-themed party or picnic and have each guest/family pick a different country, supplying ethnic cuisine at the potluck, bringing a flag and an informative printout or poster about the countries–families can compete in a mini-Olympics, follow their countries throughout the Games, etc.
The Olympic Games will be the sporting event of the summer while they are on, but interestingly the Summer Games are not followed as closely by as many folks as the Winter Games. With so many summer activities, the events’ results are often followed more closely than the events themselves. This means it is easy to have them on in the background while doing other things–like picnics and parties!
While enjoying the Games there are number of resources for results, events, and country information.
2012 Summer Olympic Games Coverage
Olympic Games Movement
BBC Sport – Olympics
CIA’s World Factbook
BBC Country Profiles
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Enjoy the summer with Summer Games! Compete against each other in friendly competition for swimming, biking, running, H.O.R.S.E., soccer penalty kicks, canoeing or kayaking, or invent your own events etc.! Create decathlons or find a local adventure race–and be sure to drink water, wear sunscreen, and eat! Have fun!