Active Learners Blog

The 2014 Younger Group Winter Olympics

Two YG'ers sledding down a hill.

Inspiration for children’s thinking and creativity can be found in many places. Following the interests of children and developing possibilities for learning, research or teamwork can come from a song, an interaction with nature or even the observation of a current event.

This year’s Younger Group (YG) class dove into all types of learning inspired by the 2014 Winter Olympics. It was a type of special occasion that this teacher could predict as an inspirational possibility, yet not know the full direction the children would take until their excitement jump started the momentum that would direct their learning.

It was February, a weekend had passed and the opening ceremonies for the 2014 Winter Olympics had been viewed by most of the YG children at home. When we entered the school day, there were exclamations of,

“Did you see the snowboarders?!”

“Did you see the American flag?!”

“Did you see the Olympic rings?!”

We were interested and we were excited.  The Younger Group had something, which had the potential to support teamwork and learning together!

With all of our energy and conversation about what we saw that weekend, the children quickly decided that we could host our own Olympics. We had lots of ideas of what it would mean to learn about and honor this special tradition of so many nations. We were interested in where it took place, the flags of various countries and how often it occurred. The mathematical consideration of “Did you know that it only happens every four years?” led to children figuring out how old they would be for the next several Winter Olympics. If we were eight years old, we would be twelve the next time the Winter Olympics would be seen. Only every four years - how special! We began planning immediately! It was an opportunity for working together in a variety of ways.

The children knew that there were specific events that they wanted to host at school for the Younger Group Olympics. To commemorate our own opening ceremony, each child added a tissue paper flame to the paper torch and the national anthem was sung. The children created the Younger Group Olympic Rings and posters, which were promptly hung around the school. Over the next few days, groups of children created planning committees for specific Olympic activities. In those committees they planned the layout and location of Olympic courses, when the event would take place, the materials needed and how to invite the athletes to participate. Parts of the Olympics took place in the classroom: the opening and closing ceremonies, a balancing game and a yoga-themed biathlon event. Several activities took place outdoors: luge, downhill and  cross-country skiing, a snow obstacle course, snow gymnastics and Capture the Flag in the Snow. Speed skating was held with roller blades on the concrete of the basketball court. Hockey required some flexibility and was played in melting snow on the golf course.

As children began to plan what day and time we would host a specific activity, we found that certain events needed additional support to make the event go as smoothly as possible. The planning committee would confirm the predicted weather, schedule the event and solicit the assistance of others in the class, such as a repair team that would repack snow during downhill skiing on the sledding hill or an announcer who would be asked to introduce the athletes prior to performing in the event. No job was too small and every child found a way to make our winter activities work.

We found another opportunity to communicate with our school community. The YG Olympics posters were noticed and inspired an interest from the Older Group children. The older children wondered what we were doing and if they could join. We invited them to be spectators of the luge event and then to take turns speeding down the track and course. Capture the Flag in the Snow was planned together. Huge flakes of snow fluttered down while the Older Group and Younger Group played together on mixed teams.

An opportunity to consider geography was also presented during our YG Olympics project. Children knew that every year there were different host countries for the Olympics. We set out to learn a little about the Russian Federation. We also enjoyed reading folklore from Russia and cooking a Russian crepe snack named blini.

The Sochi Olympics’ medal count captured the interest of some of the students who enjoyed the more competitive side of the Olympics. This interest provided mathematical challenges, such as tracking the medal winnings and creating a bar graph that compared each event and medal for the USA athletes. However, during the YG Olympics, children continued to bring up the importance of having fun while each athlete tried their best during the special games and activities. It was not just about winning but about having fun, learning together and bringing forth our best efforts while participating.

The closing ceremonies were planned by some of the oldest Younger Group classmates. A performance of a child-created hopping routine and the presentation of handcrafted medals to each Olympian made a perfect closing to our 2014 Younger Group Winter Olympics.

By following the interests, questions and excitement of children, our learning community was able to work together in new ways. Committee work presented opportunities for children to foster friendships and working relationships with many children in the class. They were involved in all of the planning, problem solving, decision-making and communication that supported our child-sized Olympics. Their learning was centered around reading, writing, weather considerations, number manipulation and comfortable working relationships. By creating our own Olympics, we created opportunities for learning together. 

This article was written by Christine Lipari-Althaus and printed in the 2014 Active Learners Journal published by the Antioch School.

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