Turning the Olympics into Educational Gold

From controversies over judges to record numbers of American gold medals, from the demeaning (ice dancing to Martin Luther King’s "I Have a Dream") to the heroic - these Olympics have had it all. And even as the winter games melt into the landscape to lie dormant to the public for another four years, the educational opportunities remain, providing a great springboard for teaching and learning.

How can you turn the Olympics into a learning experience for your family? Try to identify those components of the Olympics that have been particularly interesting for your child and go from there. Or identify those things that you would like for your child to know and make them a target of study and investigation. The following suggestions are a cross sampling of topics you and your child might want to pursue:

1. The history of the Olympics. You and your child could do a general overview or zero in on a particular aspect:

  • A study of Greece, where the Olympics originated. For great material on the history of Greece, visit Greenleaf Press or Veritas Press.
  • A study of which countries participate and why. An interesting aside would be to study those countries with tropical climates that participate in the winter games (for instance, the Jamaican bobsled team). Students could compare and contrast the geography and culture of the countries that participate in the winter games to those who participate in the summer games.
  • A study of the history and development of a particular sport, including a study of those athletes who have shaped/defined the event.
  • A study of the interaction between Olympics and world history. Two examples of this would be Hitler and the Berlin Olympics and the massacre of the Israeli Olympic team in the 80s.

2. African-American athletes. In light of the fact that February is Black History Month, students could examine the topic of African-American participation in the Olympics. Vonetta Flowers is the first African-American athlete to win gold in the winter games. Why is she the first? Will more black athletes follow her lead? Contrast the level of African-American participation in the winter versus the summer games.

3. The purpose of the Olympics. Another interesting project for students would be to write a paper or complete a project exploring the purpose of the Olympics. Why is the event important to countries, to athletes, to the world?

4. The media and the Olympics. Have students follow the newsworthy events such as the pairs figure-skating controversy. Have students analyze the media’s role in the conclusion of the controversy. Would it have been resolved differently if the media had had more limited coverage?

5. Ethics and the Olympics. Have students analyze the various ethical issues such as drug-enhanced performance and bias in evaluating performances. Also, the selection process of which country will host the winter and summer games has been fraught with bribery and ethical compromise. Who decides who the host country will be? How is the host country chosen? Is there a better way to decide?

6. New sports and the Olympics. Snowboarding just recently made its debut in the winter games. The skeleton is back. What are the criteria for a new sport to be introduced and accepted into the Olympic family? What sports are currently being considered for acceptance? Should they be accepted? Why or why not?

7. Faith and athletics. Do a study of verses in the Bible that allude to sports. Paul especially uses sports examples. What is the scriptural perspective on sports? How should faith impact an athlete’s performance and attitude? What does the Bible teach about handling success and disappointment? What else does the Bible have to say about sportsmanship?

8. The Summer Olympics. Who is hosting the summer games? How many countries will participate? Which sports will be included? How many countries participate in both the winter and summer games? Has there ever been an athlete who participated in both the winter and summer games?

Useful Web Sites for the Olympics: This official web site includes news, schedules, brief athlete bios, and more. This site includes sports trivia, news, athlete Q&A, and a medal count chart. This site includes history, trivia, and information about the Olympics. It also includes some activities for students.

Suzanna Edson is a senior at Columbia College and doing an internship with Suzanna, who is currently her class valedictorian, was home schooled through high school. Zan Tyler is co-author of the book Anyone Can Homeschool and senior education editor for She and her husband have three children and have been home schooling since 1984.