Make the Olympics the Family Olympics

Editor's Note: This article was updated February 2018.

The Olympic Games were always special to me growing up. It was one of the few sporting events my entire family looked forward to and watched together. And looking back on it, I even learned a lot during the games—things I otherwise would never have been interested in reading about or hearing from a teacher. In fact, I still learn. Here are some tips to make watching the games more interesting and educational for the entire family.

Before the Games: Have each child select a country to follow during the Olympics. Encourage them to make drawings of their country’s flag and other popular landmarks. Ask each child to research facts about the country to share with the rest of the family: things like the name of the capital, population of the country, favorite pastimes, commerce, etc. Depending on age, it might be helpful to make a form with questions for each child to fill out during their research.

Opening Ceremonies: Plan a special dinner for the night of the ceremony. Decorate the TV room with the flags the kids made and any other Olympic-themed decorations you can find or make. You could even go as far as having each child dress similar to what a child in their country might wear while watching the ceremony. Have each child share the information they’ve learned about their country as their team is announced during the ceremony. Hint: be prepared that not every country will be shown.

The Opening Ceremony is also a chance to educate about why some countries choose to boycott the Olympics. You can talk about the human rights issues surrounding these games and link the conversation back to an explanation of our country’s boycott in 1980. Do you know why?

During the Games: In addition to having an adopted country, children can also pick a favorite sport to learn about and follow during the games. My rule of thumb for this one is they have to pick a sport that isn’t shown on TV in America during the rest of the year. There are plenty of them.

Unlike when I was a kid and only able to watch the popular television sports, the internet provides live feeds from just about every sports venue at some point. Make it a point to watch a variety of sports, even if the kids think they won’t like it.

Kids can keep track of how many medals their adopted country is winning and even compare it to past Olympics. It’s a great opportunity to teach them to use print media, along with the Web, to help them search for results and interesting stories about their selected country and sport.

After the Games: Be sure to watch the closing ceremony and challenge each child to listen for five things they didn’t learn about during the games. It can be about any country, athlete or sport, but will give them something to listen for and more importantly, even more information to fill their eager minds.

If at all possible, have each child—and their siblings—experience the sport he/she followed during the games either by watching it live or trying it themselves. It might be impossible to get your child on a horse, but if they chose equestrian as their sport, my guess is there is a competition you could watch near you sometime in the future.

And, lastly, use their interest in their adopted country to fuel other educational opportunities. Just because the Olympics end doesn’t mean their chosen country shuts down. Encourage them—and provide them the means—to continue to learn more about and keep up-to-date on the country they became so interested in during the games.

Anyone will tell you the Olympic Games are so much more than sports. I can tell you from first-hand experience the games can be an enriching family experience.

Jon Buzby is a sportswriter and radio sportscaster. (This article first published in 2009).