Summer Olympic Fun: More Than Sports

Olympic TorchThis week and last, people all over the world are watching and talking about the Summer Olympics. Many of us will watch on television or online, excited to see new records set and to follow favorite athletes.

But athletes aren’t the only ones who are flocking to London, England. The festivities involve musicians, dancers, lighting and sound technicians, judges and statisticians, armies of reporters speaking dozens of languages, security staff, trash collectors, weather forecasters, and so many more. In areas near the events, hotels and restaurants will be fully staffed with chefs, pub-masters, housecleaners, and drivers getting in lots of extra hours.

While this year’s events are in England, the Olympics are a uniquely global gathering with over 200 countries participating. There are powerhouses favored to win events, but there are also teams proud and elated to be there—finding their glory by representing their homelands on the world stage.

All of that activity can make for many opportunities to have your students, children, or youth groups look at the Olympics in new ways. Here are a few ideas to get you started (these can easily be adapted for many ages). Find some starting points in our Suggested Resources below.

Olympic Rings adorn House of Parl. in LondonBrush up on the venue: Explore London. Grab a map and mark off event sites, as well as landmarks and historic points of interest. Big Ben and other clocks, the Tower of London, the River Thames, Buckingham Palace, and dozens of other sites will be shown. Why not check them out online first, and learn more about them? Perhaps some fish and chips for dinner to cap it off.

Hit the library for novels set in London, from Charles Dickens to James Herriot. Did you know that the real Christopher Robin saw a bear at the London Zoological Gardens, and his father A.A. Milne recorded his son’s reactions in the Winnie the Pooh books? Bask in great stories set in this historic city, or perhaps pick books from another country to share with your students, friends, and families.

World FlagsNot into London? Pick any participating country, and learn about the climate and culture familiar to its athletes. There may not be a sailing team from Zambia, but there is one from Argentina. Sometimes there are surprises at the Olympics. Consider the 1988 Winter Games, where the Caribbean country of Jamaica entered the bobsledding world with a bang.

Pick an event to track. Or pick an individual athlete to follow during, and after, the games. From archery to wrestling, nearly forty different sports are featured at the Summer Olympics. Each of them may have several events. With hundreds of people competing, there will be many interesting stories unfolding. In the 2000 Olympics, weightlifter Maria Isabel Urrutia won the first gold medal ever received by any athlete from Colombia. She has since become a politician in her homeland. What unknown competitor will surprise us this year? Pick a stranger, and chart his or her progress with your group.

Get Out, Free Spirit PublishingHave your own unique events. Sports or not, you can set up a few events of your own, and have fun tracking progress. Jumping rope, reading books, creating chalk drawings, shooting hoops, marathon singing sessions, school yard obstacle courses—anything the kids in your life like to do can become an event. Check out more non-sports ideas in the “Get Active” chapter of Get Out!

Sounds like fun, but your classes are out of session? Set a time to feature these activities later in the year. Have your own Fall Olympics, complete with torch relay, opening ceremony, and awards. Or keep it close to home by selecting a local school sporting event to learn about and track for the year.

Have you come up with other fun things to share with kids during the Summer Olympics? Please add them to the conversation by commenting!

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Suggested Resources
LONDON2012, the complete guide to the 2012 Summer Olympics, including lists of countries, athletes, and events.
Learn about British Culture at
See the great landmarks of England and learn their history at

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About Mary Stennes Wilbourn

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