The Olympics are held every two years, and capture the imaginations of people throughout the world. Although some people think that the Olympics are a waste of money, or should be boycotted for one reason or another, they do bring people from all over the world together, and can be used as a teaching tool. Parents of children who are interested in the Olympics might want to use the Olympics as a way to teach geography. In a 2006 CNN poll, almost two-thirds of young adult Americans (age 18 to 24) could not find Iraq on a map, and a third could not find Louisiana on a map. By making geography relevant and interesting, the Olympics can help increase geography knowledge.
Tools You Need
In order to teach geography through the Olympics, you will need a map, atlas, or globe (or all three). World Maps can be purchased for as little as $5 on Amazon.com. Inflatable globes can be found for as little as $8, and globes with stands can be purchased new for $20; I was able to find a globe at a used book sale for $2 used; you might be able to find a great deal at a garage sale or on Craig’s List. You can teach geography on the cheap by downloading maps off the internet. Many maps can be downloaded at http://www.printablemaps.net/, a Google search of “printable maps” can lead to more links. If you purchase a world map, you might want to laminate the map with Contac paper. You may also want to use Post-It flags or stickers to mark the places that you find on the maps throughout the Olympics.
Teaching Olympic Geography During the Parade of Nations
One of the first ways to teach geography through the Olympics is to watch the opening ceremonies, and mark the countries that you find during the Parade of Nations. Over 80 nations are expected to participate in the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, and more than 200 nations are expected to participate in the 2012 Olympics in London. Some of these nations will be hard to find on a map, so you may want to help. You can stick the Post-It Flags on all the countries that participate in the parade.
Another way that you can teach geography through the Olympics is to watch your favorite sports. Look up the countries of all the athletes that win medals, or of the athletes that interest your child. To increase your child’s knowledge of United States geography, you may want to look up the state (or perhaps even city) of where the athlete lives. Many times the broadcasters will mention where they live, or you could look up their biographies on Wikipedia to find out where they are from.
You can also teach geography through the Olympics by keeping track of the medal count. Most major news publications, both online and off, will publish the medal count on a daily basis. Your child can keep chart of all the countries that have received medals, and make a note of the totals on the map using Post-It Flags.
You may want to add a little bit of a challenge to an older student’s geographic learning by having him or her look up information about some of the countries, such as the capital city or the population. You may want to find out the answers to questions such as: Do the more populous countries get more medals? Do the wealthier nations get the most medals? What is the population of countries that only get one medal, or don’t medal at all? For the Winter Olympics, you might want to compare the amount of snowfall in the countries that medal the most to the snowfall in countries that get the fewest medals.
By the time the Olympics are over, your child should be able to recognize more countries than ever before, and should be able to find them on a map with greater ease than they could before as well.
“Study: Geography Greek to Young Americans”. CNN.com, 4 May 2006. http://www.cnn.com/2006/EDUCATION/05/02/geog.test/