"We seldom get into trouble when we speak softly. It is only when we raise our voices that the sparks fly and tiny molehills become great mountains of contention."
- - Gordon B. Hinckley
July 30, 2012
Around the World in 17 Days
by Melissa Howell

The Olympics are here again! I love the Olympics. We had so much fun during the Winter 2010 games in Vancouver, British Columbia. My kiddos, husband and I visited six countries that are well represented in the winter games, learning about language and culture and history. And we never even left our home.

As the Winter 2010 games approached, I said to my husband, “Wouldn’t it be fun to study some countries during the Olympics, to teach the children more about other cultures?” He agreed. But he didn’t really have a choice; I was already smitten with the idea. It would be so much fun! I thought the kids would enjoy it as well.

So we researched the previous winter games medal counts, and selected six countries that are fairly prominently represented. Our list included Canada, France, China, Russia, Norway and Germany. Then we set to work planning.

The local library proved to be an invaluable resource (libraries are always an invaluable resource, aren’t they?). I found children’s fiction and non-fiction books about each of our chosen countries. These provided an excellent foundation on which to build our activities.

We mixed a little of our imaginations with our children’s imaginations, and voila! We had ourselves a cultural celebration that spanned the course of the 17-day games (every few days, we studied one of the chosen countries). Naturally, we kicked things off with Canada, on the day of the opening ceremonies. We spaced the rest of the countries throughout the remaining Olympic days.

The children made the flag from each nation; I would show them a picture of the flag, and they would re-create it. Sometimes we used white paper and markers or crayons; other times we used construction paper, scissors and glue.

We read the library books, and sometimes viewed online videos. We cooked an entire meal from each country’s cuisine, from recipes I had researched. We had everything from French crepes and cream puffs to German frankfurters, potatoes and jelly doughnuts, from Norwegian boiled fish dumplings and lemon mousse to a Russian chicken dish and almond cookies, from pancakes with real Canadian maple syrup and Canadian bacon to Asian noodles, egg rolls and fortune cookies.

We learned some basic words in each language. We did a whole slew of cultural activities and crafts: we made Viking helmets out of Tupperware and aluminum foil and pretended to be sailing on a Viking ship, discovering and conquering new lands; we made Russian Faberge eggs; we learned about Beethoven, and each child tried writing his or her own sheet music; we learned to write Chinese characters; we pretended to visit the Black Forest in Germany, and I gave each child a homemade Black Forest spa treatment; and more.

I love how much the children cherished each country study and looked forward to the next; they’d excitedly awaken each day wondering where we were going to “visit” that day. And they still remember so much of what we learned.

Now that the London 2012 games are underway, so is our next round of Olympic Country studies. For this go-round, we have selected England, Japan, Australia, Kenya, Brazil and Romania. Once again we will be creating the nations’ flags, dabbling in some cultural cuisines, reading fiction and non-fiction books about each country, learning to speak a few words in each language, and more.

Here’s a sampling of some things we have planned.

For England, we will be studying Shakespeare, making costumes and props, learning to create theatrical sound effects and such; learning about the Royal Family, making crowns and having scones and clotted cream at high tea; and listening to Beatles music.

We will learn about the Outback, and make dioramas of the Great Barrier Reef, boomerangs, and aboriginal artwork in celebration of Australia.

Japan Day will find us making sushi rolls, Japanese fans and cherry blossom art.

We will study the great animal migration of Kenya, as well as the culture of the Maasai and Kikuyu people, including doing the Maasai jumping dance.

We’ll venture in the Amazon River Basic to study the people and creatures that dwell therein, and learn to dance the samba like they do in Brazil.

For Romania, we’ll brave our way into Transylvania – and if we make it out – we’ll relax at a spa on the banks of the Black Sea; this will involve a relaxing mud bath in the backyard kiddie pool.

We will always cheer for the good old U.S. of A., but it is a rewarding and memorable experience to learn the cultures that shape some of the other Olympic athletes from around the world. And the great thing about doing such a cultural activity is that it can be adapted in any way, and re-created on a large scale, a small scale, or something in the middle. Either way, doing such activities is sure to enhance your family’s Olympic experience.

In addition, here are some ideas for holding your own Olympic games, for your family, neighborhood, or beyond:

  • Make gold medals: spray paint medal lids and glue them onto ribbon.
  • Make a medals podium out of three sturdy boxes or other containers of varying heights; drape with fabric and decorate.
  • Take pictures of children wearing their medals on the podium.
  • Make Olympic torches out of empty toilet paper rolls, unused snow cone papers and yellow, orange and red tissue paper
  • Make Olympic-themed treats: bake cupcakes in flat-bottomed ice cream cones and use frosting to create the flame
  • Create Olympic events: running races, throwing events, obstacle courses, beach volleyball (use any sort of net and an inflatable beach ball) and any other events that get kids moving and having fun
  • Visit teamusa.org to learn about local athletes and cheer them on
  • Visit london2012.com to learn more about the games, or visit https://mascot-games.london2012.com/ to learn about the London 2012 mascots, play games and more
  • Make your own Olympic rings, with the five circles of blue, yellow, black, green and red, which signify the five major regions of the world: Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe, and Oceania. Color them on paper, dip the end of an empty paper towel roll in paint and press and overlap them on paper or make them out of pipe cleaners.

Happy Olympics!

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About Melissa Howell

Melissa Howell was born and raised in the woods of northern Minnesota. She has a degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota.

As a single 20-something, she moved to Colorado seeking an adventure. She found one, first in landing her dream job and then in landing her dream husband; four children followed.

Upon becoming a mother, she left her career in healthcare communications to be a stay-at-home mom, and now every day is an adventure with her husband Brian and children Connor (9), Isabel (6), Lucas (5) and Mason (2).

In addition, she is a freelance writer and communications consultant for a variety of organizations.

Melissa serves as Assistant director of media relations for stake public affairs and Webelos den leader

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