There is perhaps no greater demonstration of persistence in action than an Olympic athlete. Making one’s life’s mission to continually challenge oneself to be the best you can be and the best in the world is serious work. Play doesn’t have to be quite as serious though, so why not take inspiration from the Winter Olympics by hosting a Silly Olympics in and around your home! Being able to stay silly as you approach challenges is a great way to keep kids active, connect as a family and enjoy a few belly laughs together. Plus, adding movement to play is a super way to stay warm in colder weather.
This activity is featured in our January calendar in honor of Belly Laugh Day on January 22nd. Click to get your free copy and sign up to get a fresh, new calendar each month!
Learn about the Olympics.
Find out more about the history of the Olympics, including what the original events were, in Ancient Greece 2,700 years ago! Take a look at amazing moments throughout Olympics history, including sticking with it through injuries to take the gold, winning when the odds were stacked against you, and setting records that stood for almost 50 years.
Say, “Do you think we could host our own family Winter Olympics? What if all the events were silly? What kind of silly challenges could we do together?” Wonder how you might be able to recreate some of the winter sports featured in the Olympics, too. Write down your child’s ideas and suggest some of your own as well. Need ideas? Here are some of our favorite winter Olympics-inspired challenges to engage kids’ bodies and sense of humor:
Curling: Use a broom to sweep a leaf, acorn, pine cone or other object towards a target.
Speed skating: Place paper towels or cloth under each foot and “skate” towards a finish line.
Ice luge: Stack books under one side of a cookie to make an incline. Then, race ice cubes or frozen treasures down the slide to see which one gets to the bottom fastest. As the ice begins to melt, how does that affect the speed?
Snowball Launch: Roll snow into balls, pick a target (e.g. a tree, spot in the yard) and launch! Don’t have snow? Mud balls will do the trick, too!
Husky haul: Turn a sled or cookie sheet, reusable shopping bag and some rope into a dog sled. See ow fast you can pull the sled from one point to another. If you have snow, shovel some on your sled. Or, load it up with some heavy objects (e.g. pieces of wood, rocks, books). How fast can you pull when you load some heavy objects on the sled? Read more about this activity here.
Toppling towers: Build the tallest tower you can using nature treasures and/or recyclable materials.
Ice melt: Make an ice cube melt as fast as you can.
Free from the freeze: Freeze some nature objects (e.g. small rocks, pine cones, acorns, leaves, flowers) inside ice. Offer kids a few tools (e.g. salt, warm water, stick or a mallet) and challenge them to free the objects from the ice as fast as they can. Read more about this activity here.
Winter gear challenge: Lay out all of your winter outdoor gear (e.g. boots, coat, hats, gloves, scarf). Set a timer and see how quickly you can put on all of the layers. Then see how quickly you can take them all off! Try it again to beat your last time.
Animal race: Each teammate chooses and animal (e.g. elephant, frog, worm) to move like as they race to the finish line.
Host the opening ceremonies.
The Opening Ceremony is an important part of every Olympic Games. You can hum or play the official Olympic music or any song that sounds inspiring to your team. Make a few props to add to the pomp, too!
Use fabric or paper to create a flag or two. Welcome kids to use art supplies to decorate with colors and designs they like. For older kids, you can also encourage them to study the flags of different nations and create a flag for the nation that interests them. Attach the flag to a stick with tape or, for a longer lasting flag, cut holes and weave the stick through, then wave with pride! (See our DIY flag activity for more.)
Make a Torch.
You can also turn a cardboard tube and some red construction paper or tissue paper into a marvelous torch with which to lead your parade. Want a healthy and delicious torch that gives your silly olympians fuel? Fill an ice cream cone with some granola, then either yogurt or a little nut or seed butter towards the top. Then, stick a few snacks like apple slices, long pieces of banana, pretzel sticks or strips of dried mango to add the flames. After a short parade, kids can dig in!
Let the silly games begin!
When it’s time for the games to commence, pick one of the silly challenges from your list. Invite kids to use logs, chairs, rope or string, nature treasures or other objects to set up physical challenges for your silly events. After each silly challenge, wonder how you might add or change the challenge to make it even trickier (or more silly).
Celebrate with the closing ceremonies.
At the end of the event make a moment to celebrate everyone’s persistence, creativity and humor. Kids can make flower crowns or medals out of cardboard, paper, and other art center materials. Have a presentation of honors with snacks and Olympic music and award family members for the challenges that each person was most proud of or excited about.
Why is this activity great for kids?
Fun, physical challenges are marvelous ways to give kids practice with persistence and grit. Adding silliness to your family routines is a super way to spark joy, an emotion that impacts our bodies and our minds in lasting ways. And, a good sense of humor gives kids the tools they need to see things from many perspectives, a cornerstone of empathic thinking. Humor also helps kids think flexibly and grasp unconventional ways of approaching a situation—both of which allow for divergent thinking, an essential component of creativity.
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By creativity, we mean the ability to both imagine original ideas or solutions to problems and actually do what needs to be done to make them happen. So, to help kids develop creativity, we parents need to nurture kids' imaginations and give them lots of chances to design, test, redesign and implement their ideas.
"Creativity is as important now in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status.”
Why, you ask? For one, it is through being creative that a person is able to get senses, sensibility and spirit working together. Simply put, without creativity, we don't think our kids will live a full life.
On a more practical level, it's also the means by which humans of all ages make an impact on the world and other people around them. A lot of heavy stuff is going to go down in our kids' lifetime, and their generation will need to imagine and implement solutions to big and very complicated problems. Although our kids are still far from public office or the boardroom, today's political and business leaders worldwide are already pointing to creativity as the most important leadership quality for the future.
Although years from the art studio or design lab, little kids can learn to think and act creatively if you give them time and the right practice.
What are Problem Solving Skills?
When we talk about problem solving, we mean the ability to solve a problem in which the solution is not obvious and in which the possible paths to solution are many. To solve such problems, kids will need two things. First, they’ll need the self confidence and comfort to both attempt to find and persist in finding a solution. The only way to develop this is to be given the chance to struggle with ambiguous situations or open-ended problems. We parents are all guilty, from time to time, of helping kids avoid struggle or swooping in to alleviate frustration when our kid encounters challenge. The goal is actually to do the opposite whenever possible. As long as the problem is not too difficult to understand or challenging to solve, even young kids can get comfortable with the feeling of not knowing the solution and fall in love with the joy of finding a solution to a problem.
Kids also need strategies to attack problems with which they are faced. If adults are able to work with kids to solve problems “as a team” but in such a way that the children feel and act “in charge” of the decisions, adults can actually teach foundation problem solving skills and strategies through modeling. For example, when you solve a problem together, kids get practice with key parts of the process like brainstorming, testing ideas, revision and solution. It’s also pretty easy to model how to use simple strategies like trial and error or breaking a problem down into smaller parts. Although children age 1 to 7 should not be expected to name, catalog or identify when to use a particular problem solving strategy, they are able to form habits and repeat approaches once those habits or approaches have become familiar. The more problems they solve, the better they know and can use these methods.
Why does it matter?
“The highest ranked skills for students entering the workforce were not facts and basic skills; they were applied skills that enable workers to use the knowledge and basic skills they have acquired” (Source: Are They Really Ready for Work? Conference Board 2006).
Although it seems a long way to go before our young children are hitting the job market, the ability to solve challenging, ambiguous problems has already been identified as a critical skill for success in the 21st Century. With advances in technology, finding information has never been easier. However, knowing how to interpret a problem and use available information to devise a solution still needs to be learned. And, we fear that the classrooms of today are neither designed nor incentivized to teach these skills effectively. In most schools, so much time is spent learning discrete skills, that applied skills like problem solving are wildly underemphasized. In a world that demands it, it is increasingly necessary that children learn and practice these skills outside of school.
What are Gross Motor skills?
Gross motor skills involve movement and use of the large muscles of the body (e.g. those in our arms, legs and trunk/torso) that enable such functions as walking, running, sitting upright, climbing, and throwing.
In the first 16 months of the average baby’s life, she rapidly acquires significant gross motor skills: rolling over, sitting up, standing, crawling and walking. Toddlers and young children go on to build gross motor skills such as throwing and catching a ball, balancing on a log, jumping, and running in a game of tag.
Gross motor skills develop through practice and repetition, which is why a baby takes weeks to perfect each new milestone motor skill, and a child will attempt that same climbing stunt again and again or take a whole season to learn how to throw or catch a ball successfully.
Each child develops at his or her own pace and in his or her own way. Typical gross motor skills development also requires that the brain, spine, nerves and muscles need to be intact and undamaged. If damage has occurred through birth trauma, accident or illness, then progress of motor skills, as that of other skills, may be not resemble the notes below.
Why does it matter?
Gross motor skills are essential for every day, important body movements including walking, keeping balance, reaching, lifting and even sitting. These skills are essential for getting around, accessing the things we need and participating in games, sports and other activities that promote wellness, social development and learning. Gross motor skills are also necessary for other physical functions. For example, a child’s ability to sit and hold his upper body strong and steady will likely impact his ability to use his hands to write, draw and cut as well as his ability to follow instructions and participate actively in a classroom setting.
Typical Gross Motor Development by age:
Babies learn to walk well, skip, jump, and run. They learn to climb on stairs, logs, small ladders and age appropriate playground equipment (or, if like ours, on equipment designed for kids much older!). They also enjoy moving and grooving to music.
Toddlers run, jump and climb with improved coordination. Toddlers start to enjoy playing games that coordinate more than one gross motor skill like those that involve running, kicking and/or climbing. Toddlers also enjoy experimenting with movement in certain directions such as: forwards and backwards; in straight lines; rotating until dizzy, etc.
Large muscle movement grows more coordinated. Children can run faster and switch both terrain and direction with much more ease, making chasing games and races both fun and helpful. Many children this age begin to use pedal toys and attempt to hop with both feet and then on one foot while keeping their balance. They can toss objects in the direction of a target and play catch at short distances.
Large muscle movement grows even stronger and more coordinated. Most children master the hopping with one or both feet. They can run, jump forward and often skip. They can throw objects and often hit a target. Games that involve kicking and throwing while running are now possible and fun. Toddlers this age love to balance on the edges of objects and walk in straight lines. Movement that is rhythmic is both highly engaging and possible.
Large muscle movement only continues to grow stronger and coordinated as children’s energy level soars at this age. Most kids can hop, skip, and even jump rope. They easily throw balls at targets and are improving their ability to catch balls that are tossed to them. Kids this age start to take more risks with their climbing, making it an great age to begin climbing trees, challenging logs and rocks.
Persistence & Grit
What are Persistence & Grit?
A persistent person can continue on a given course of action in spite of challenges or barriers that arise. In other words, persistence is the ability to stick with something and keep trying. It's partner, grit, is the strength of character, and sometimes courage, to allow one to persist. Those who possess grit don't mind rolling up their sleeves, focusing on the task at hand, and sticking with it to completion despite the challenges that come their way.
Why does it matter?
Talent is helpful, but it's hard work, persistence and grit that unlock talent and turn capable people into success stories. As Thomas Edison so famously said, "Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration." Practice with being persistent, including the chance to struggle and learn how to overcome struggle, will help kids later have ability to wade through and make sense of confusing new information, navigate difficult situations, and solve tough problems.
Further, studies like those discussed in Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman's NurtureShock tell us that kids will actually perform better when we praise their hard work instead of just telling them how smart or great they are. As parents, we also tend to offer kids activities which are enjoyable and attainable and, as such, too easy. Bear in mind that if we spare them frustration, we actually deny them the chance to work hard and develop persistence and grit.