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Phoenix Forward

Olympic lessons: What kids can learn while watching the 30th Summer Games

What kids can learn from the Olympics

When the 30th Summer Olympic Games open in London for 12 days on July 27, you’ll want to take the opportunity to enjoy the events with your children. As spectators of the Summer Olympics, you will not only get to witness world-class athletes perform incredible feats, but you will be treating your family to some pretty spectacular educational experiences at the same time. Here are just a few:


You’ll meet role models.

From the ADHD-afflicted learner, Michael Phelps, who went on to win 16 Olympic medals in swimming — the most anyone has ever won — to gymnast Mary Lou Retton, who scored perfect 10s after undergoing knee surgery, the Olympic Games offer fantastic examples of inspiring role models.

“A lot of athletes overcome issues related to extreme poverty as well,” says JoAnn Ellsworth, an instructor in the psychology program for the University of Phoenix Southern Arizona Campus.

“Everyone can benefit from these lessons of overcoming adversity and persevering despite the odds. It offers viewers this important perspective of, ‘You think you got it bad? Just listen to this story.’”


You’ll see healthy bodies that are not skinny.

With 26 different sports covered at the games, you’ll see a variety of different body types.Female athletes, like the discus throwers and some of the swimmers and boxers, are big women, and they are proud of the way they look,” Ellsworth says.

“By watching the range of athletes at the Olympics today, we can get away from the look of the tiny gymnasts and embrace all body sizes. These are not tiny little emaciated women. They are really big, strong and healthy.”


You’ll learn about geography.

With an opening ceremony featuring athletes from 205 different nations from every continent, the Olympic Games offer a wonderful opportunity for kids to learn the locations of countries.

“Americans as a whole do really poorly in geography,” says Ellsworth, who is also an academic counselor. She suggests parents turn watching the games into an exercise: “Each time a new athlete is featured, turn to your kids and say, ‘Where does this athlete come from? Let’s find it on the map.’”


You’ll get a great historical perspective.

Olympic coverage does a terrific job of teaching the history of particular sports, Ellsworth says. “These Olympic vignettes often depict the evolution of minorities in sports, for example, as well as showing how there are greater opportunities for women in sports today.”


You’ll learn about cooperation among diverse nations.

News headlines often call our attention to unrest in the world, and they focus on our political differences. At the Olympics, though, many nations come together in healthy competition, and children can witness an example of people putting their differences aside to celebrate human achievement.

“If it’s a peaceful time, it makes a peaceful statement about world conditions,” Ellsworth says. “We hope for that.”

Interested in furthering your education?