As I watched Ledecky the other night with my 5-year old daughter, she told me her teacher said in summer camp that the important thing about the Olympics was not winning but participating, and that everyone was a winner. As I proceeded to explain to her how that statement might hold some truth but not the whole truth (my opinion), I realized that watching the Olympics with her offers incredible opportunities to discuss several important topics, which are hard to convey in a classroom environment.
Watching the Olympics with your child can help explain some important concepts such as
As obvious as this one may seem, many kids, especially the ones who have not had the fortune to travel abroad, the Olympics, with athletes representing countries all over the globe, offer an increadible opportunity to spark curiosity in geography. “Dad, where is Trinidad was one of the first questions raised during these Olympics?” Instead of brushing off these questions with the typical, “I don’t know” or “it’s really not that important,” take the opportunity to open Google Maps and show the kid the inmensity of the planet, the different continents and the multitude of islands around.
These conversations can definitely help the child explore their natural curiosity, enough to fuel an hour-long conversation about countries, oceans and different ethnicities present in each corner of the planet. Those flags that show next to each one of the names in the competition will provide the perfect opportunity to initiate the talk. Take advantage of it.
Many kids marvel at the screen when they watch gymnasts, lifters or even handballers compete for their countries, which gives us an opportunity to explore the different sports around the world. And even if you had never seen a competitive beach volleyball tournament or even know much about it, you can search for information together and explore the different skills which may be required to perform at the highest level at the specific sport.
Some of the moves, especially the ones gymnasts perform, may seem like a good introduction for some kids to the possibilities of the human body and also allow for some fun times when your kid tries to imitate them. The other night, as we watched Simone perform some incredible moves, my daughter commented, without even flinching, “wow. Not even I can do that, so it must be really hard.” That ingenuity is both priceless and funny, plus it reminded us of how awesome most things appear when you look at it from the kid’s perspective.
When a report about Simone took us behind the scenes, the gymnast emphasized how she trains about 32 hours a week, rain or shine, for a chance to compete at the games. A perfect introduction to the effort it requires, for anything in life, to reach any kind of competence, completely different from the easy route sometimes presented in movies, with the main character preparing for about 3 minutes on the scree to become the super hero that saves the day.
Explaining the meaning of 32 hours of week of practice, from age six, puts many things in context for the younger ones, who sometimes may think, “I’d better get started practicing already,” which can also be applied to any academic or professional endeavor.
I know this is a touchy subject for many parents and teachers who impart the philosophy of just participating and that competition is harmful to others and society. However, in reality, in many professions, schools or sports, competition is part of life. Whether learning how to graciously concede defeat or to play fairly, kids must realize that competing is an ingrained aspect of humans.
The sooner they learn the sunny side, the sour side, or the ugly side of competition, the more emotionally prepared they will be in their future as a person. Not winning at all costs or the motivation to win can be good starting points for a fruitful debate with your curious child, even though you may have to compete with the opinions of teachers or other parents along the way.
So, stay tuned and watch the Olympics with your kid, and, most importantly, take advantage of the opportunities to engage in meaningful conversations. You will pleasantly surprised how much we can also learn from our children untainted minds. Embrace it.
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