As the pageantry of the 2012 Summer Olympic games gets under way, billions of people celebrate its history and look forward to watching the athletes compete. Radio, television and the Internet make it possible to bring the competitions to wherever you are.
The courage and talent of the best of the best have truly inspired children and adults around the world. For some competitors these games are a possible path to a better life, and for the 212 countries participating, a sense of national pride. They are also a great teaching-tool for parents and caregivers.
For the athletes, getting to this point required years of practice and dedication as well as tremendous support from families, friends and trainers. These people are inspired and inspiring - whether they bring home the bronze, silver or gold - or nothing but the exhilarating experience of competing with the best of the best. From the thrilling opening ceremony to the extinguishing of the Olympic flame at the end of the games, a great opportunity is presented for discussing valuable life-lessons.
Begin with open-ended questions and listen to the interesting responses your child will give. Have a computer nearby to look up geographical locations and history. And put your own thinking caps on- you might be surprised at what you learn too!
Inspiration: The Olympics are inspirational on so many levels- so begin with the concept of inspiration. Ask what inspires your child. Ask if there is a particular athlete or sport that your child is interested in and why. Find out about the athletes lives and how they had to prepare to get where they are. Ask your child what he or she is willing to work hard for.
Backgrounds: Since the field is so wide, many athletes have very compelling stories. Become a reporter and discover some of the athletes who have struggled to get to the top.
These emotional tales can make watching an event all the more compelling and give you a chance to talk to your kids about perseverance. Of course, some stories can include grim experiences -- death, illness, and injury -- that might be too much for very young or very sensitive viewers. Chime in when reassurance or more explanation is necessary.
Ask your child what do you think your background story would be?
Teamwork: While some athletes participate on an individual level, others are part of a team. Even those that compete alone got there with the help of others. Discuss the value and importance of teamwork. Show the connection between working together as a team in sports and in other ways - such as school projects and family activities. Ask your child their definition of teamwork. Another good question is what characteristics or values make a good teammate?
Competition: Winning feels great, and a lot of kids like to identify with the winners as they watch the awards ceremonies. But there are other athletes who gave their all and didn't place in the top three. Kids can identify with those competitors too, sooner or later you're not going to come in first, second or even third at something you try. While it's great fun to celebrate the winner, it's also a good time to talk about how to handle defeat with grace. You might ask what do you think is the difference between good and poor sportsmanship? Should the athletes who didn't win this time, try again? Do you think winning is the most important thing when competing? What else might be important?
Global perspective: The Olympics is the perfect time to learn about other countries and cultures. Write down as many of the countries as you can and look up where they are, what their flag looks like, and the cultural traditions of the people and country.
What language do they speak? There are websites where you can type in a phrase or sentence and hear how it is spoken in another language. Look up other country's school systems and what they learn. Sometimes children can see how fortunate they are and learn to develop a tolerance for differences when they can identify with other children.
You could ask, what is the most interesting fact you learned about another country? What do you see that is different from you and what is the same?
As you can see the Olympics offers a lot to talk about with your child or children. One of the great things about watching the games as a family is the opportunity to share in the pride and accomplishments of the athletes who have worked so hard to be there. The 2012 Olympics are not only a time for global unity but can also be a time for those precious teaching and learning moments that help build strong bonds between parents and their kids.