I've always loved watching the Olympics. As a small child, during the two weeks of the summer Olympics, my three siblings and I would head into my parents’ bedroom after dinner and flip on the television.
It was the only room with air conditioning, so we all piled onto the gigantic king-sized bed and cheered for the athletes as we wrestled, dove into pillows, and practiced our own gymnastic moves well past bedtime.
Now, as an adult, as soon as I turn on the television and hear the opening notes of the Olympic theme song, I’m instantly sucked in. I love the pageantry of the opening ceremonies, the fierce competition of the athletes during the games, and all of the underdog stories relayed to the viewers along the way. Above all, I love the sense of hope, anticipation, and excitement that weaves itself through the Olympic Games.
This is the first year that my children, ages four and six, will be old enough to really watch the games with me, and I cannot wait to share the experience with them.
Watching the Olympics is a fun way to spend time together as a family, just like watching football on Sunday or baseball games throughout the summer. View it as a way to build memories with your kids. I can still remember watching the 1992 Winter Olympics with my mom and skating around the kitchen floor on socked feet after Kristi Yamaguchi won gold in figure skating.
Young children might need a little more to entertain them during the competitions, but the viewing experience can still be enjoyed together. Add some physical activities to keep them interested. During commercial breaks, kids can run laps around the living room to see who has the fastest time, or have them practice somersaults between competitors.
My young children may not remember specific Olympic moments this time around, but I do hope they remember the family time we spent together watching them.
Kids will be bombarded with patriotism. The flags! The red, white, and blue apparel! Hopefully, we will also hear “The Star Spangled Banner” numerous times as athletes win gold for USA.
As we watch the medal ceremonies, I plan to have my kids stand and sing along. Not only will this help teach them the words to the national anthem, but it will also show them behavior expectations for future encounters with the national anthem.
I'll also make sure to point out how everyone stands and listens quietly as other national anthems are played. It is never too early to learn to show respect and understanding for other countries’ customs and traditions.
From the costumes during the Opening Ceremony to the multitude of different languages, traditions, and mannerisms shown throughout coverage of the Olympics, children will be inundated with new information about the world around them.
I plan to take advantage of all of the educational coverage. We'll have a map of the world and an atlas close by to look up other countries and cultures as they are referenced. We'll also Google pressing questions my children might have as they hear other countries referenced. Things like, Have dinosaur fossils been found in Brazil? What Disney princesses are from China? Do they have McDonald’s in Australia? What about Happy Meals?
Children will inevitably note that not all athletes look the same. They speak different languages and carry different flags. However, with encouragement, children will also notice that despite these obvious differences, all participants go through much of the same experience.
When an athlete wins, she will usually do one of the following: cry happy tears, throw her arms up in the air, fall to the ground, wrap herself in a flag, or hug a teammate, coach or family member. This universality of emotions is a powerful teaching tool.
Most athletes who go to the Olympics do not win a medal. In fact, most athletes go into the Olympics knowing that they don’t even have a chance to win a medal. They are there for the love of their sport, love of their country, and a strong resolve to do their best.
In today’s trophy-loving culture, messages like this are often lost on children. I will make sure to point out to my own children that not everyone gets a medal, many are just happy to be there, and it's okay if you don’t win.
There are also plenty of examples of good sportsmanship. I’m sure there will be a few exceptions, but in general, athletes are well-mannered in their losses. They stand on the podium next to the victor and show respect while hearing the notes of another country’s national anthem. Athletes without medals, unlike my own children, do not throw temper tantrums or stomp off to their rooms because they lost. My children can only benefit from watching this. Perhaps future endings to Candy Land games will be a bit smoother, as well.
No, I don’t think that my children will grow up to be Olympic athletes, but hopefully they can see that with hard work and dedication, anything is possible. Perhaps, they will be able to sense the excitement of dreams realized for all of the athletes who complete in Rio this year.
So, on Friday, August 5, you will find my family and me curled up together on the sofa watching the Opening Ceremony. We will see athletes from nations from all over the world file into the Maracanã Stadium and stand together for a brief time. In a world that feels more and more divided each time I turn on the television, this will be a pleasant reprieve.
I will then point to the torch and explain how the flame will burn throughout the Olympics and how that flame symbolizes hope: The hope of the athletes, the hope of the world, and the hope of this mom who wants her children to grow up to be strong, daring, and dedicated to their own dreams.