2020 Olympics – with your kids!

Halfway through the summer and what are your kids doing? They’ve been home so long that they seem to have done everything you and they can think of, and now you’re out of ideas. Here’s one that can apply to your family, to a small group of families, or to your neighborhood, depending on your living situation: family Olympics!

The Tokyo Olympics were supposed to happen at the end of July. The summer games always give children ideas about what to do outside. While you might not agree that using the rake handle to pole vault over the fence is a good idea, it certainly gives your kids new ways to play. Since the Olympics are postponed until next year, what can you do? I suggest that your family, and other families if you feel safe, put on your own Olympic games.

Start by assigning a country to each individual who’s going to participate, or to each family depending on the size of your Olympic games. The easiest way to do this is to draw names from a hat. More importantly, select countries to participate which are smaller and less known. This will keep the level of competition on a more even plane, although competitive individuals will ramp it up anyway.

The first step is for each person or group to become knowledgeable about the country they’ll represent. Get a map of the world (you can find one to print on the Internet) and mark the location of each country. Each person or group should provide a copy of their country’s flag and see if they can dress in the country colors. They should know basics about their country – the capital, the head of the government, the language spoken, something about the culture of the country, and places that one might visit there. At the start of your games, you will have a parade of countries with the flag of that country carried by a member of the team – even if the team is only one person.

Each country will decide on an event that they will set up and run and some care should be made to fit the event to the country. For example, the national sport of Bhutan is archery, they always compete in that sport. Jamaica might sponsor a running event – your backyard is probably not wide enough for a 100-meter dash, so you might try the 25-meter dash, or go to a local park for the event. If you live in close quarters and don’t have room for running events, you probably can manage bean bag tosses or darts.

All countries will provide a participant for each game in your 2020 Olympics games. Yes, you will have to provide medals, but making paper medals will be part of the fun. If you do this in your neighborhood, you can have the parade of countries down your sidewalk and each house can be decorated with its country’s colors. If you are doing this only in your house, each country should have a space to decorate and to represent that place.

If you can’t think of how to develop events, look at Jelle’s Marble Olympics: This is a fun way to develop competitive events in very small spaces and use up various toys at the same time. Using paper towel and toilet paper tubes as half pipes or tunnels can add to the complexity of the games. If you use this sort of model for your Olympics, each country should develop its own game, and all countries will participate.

Keep track of Gold, Silver, and Bronze winners, but remember, as at the real Olympics, it is not about winning, but about participating. Yes, the winners will have something to brag about the rest of the year, but that is probably not unusual in any family. Those who are particularly good at an event might run training sessions to help others develop skills in that sport.

The idea of this whole event is to help your children learn something about the world, especially for some of the less well-known countries across the globe. Representing a country will help them understand a bit about other cultures. It’ll also help them find out what it is like to be in charge of running an event and to compete in a sport you are not very good at. All of these are good things for us to know and learning them now is so much better than when the stakes are higher.

Another skill that your children will develop is some ability in devising games. You’ll likely be surprised at how good children are at coming up with ways to compete with each other. Experiential learning like this is key. Children used to be allowed to play by themselves without adult supervision, and did this all the time. Every neighborhood had its own set of rules for tag or dodge ball which had been developed by the participants. That laid the groundwork for developing creativity and problem-solving skills so resist the temptation to help each country as it develops its games. You may be needed to provide supplies or make suggestions, but it’s each country’s duty to come up with their own event.

Children’s book author and illustrator Victoria Jamieson has a page on her site with a rundown of her suggestions for Kid Olympics, including Opening Ceremonies, making a kid-safe (i.e. not actually flaming) Olympic torch, country flag templates, Olympic mascot ideas, events, and more. That can get you started, and give you something to share with your fellow games planners.

Have a great time at the 2020 Smith Family Summer Olympics or the 2020 Oak Street Summer Olympics or the 2020 Lake Street High-rises Summer Olympics! Take lots of pictures – send them in and we will post them here – and I promise you that your children will talk about this for years.