It happens every year—February. The midwinter slump, when all that bubbling love of learning congeals into a puddle of apathy.
In the Jones home, this time of year also means February School. Every year we combat the winter doldrums by changing up the school routine for the month. We have a much lighter school load, and Darren (the official planner of our household) builds our lessons around something fun.
This year, we were all about the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Although we aren’t a big sports family, we enjoy the Olympics. You don’t really have to know how the sport is played, you just get to watch and see who wins. Darren, especially, has good memories of watching the Games with his family growing up. He wanted to give our kids the same experience.
Now, you might be thinking that it’s a bit late to share ideas for an Olympic-themed February school. It’s really not. Thanks to the internet, you can go back and watch thirty years’ worth of Olympic events—not to mention looking forward to the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. And it might not be February that’s hard for your homeschool. Maybe it’s in April when everybody has a birthday. Or possibly you want to keep up a thread of school during the summer. You’ll find a wealth of ideas surrounding an Olympic theme. I’ve included a few other ideas for further study that we didn’t pursue. There are many, many other paths you could take.
We started off our February School by choosing five countries to follow and creating their flags for display. The following valuable lessons were learned:
- When choosing countries, always pick Japan first. It doesn’t really matter why you’re choosing countries. What matters is that Japan has the easiest flag to make.
- On a related note, avoid choosing Brazil, Mexico, or the United States. Their flags are headaches. (Who thought it was a good idea to have one star for each state when you have fifty blasted states? One star for every 10 states would have sufficed, U.S.A.)
Further study: You could build an entire mini-unit around the history and symbolism of a country’s flag.
Further study: A brief overview of the history and culture of the host country. The Opening Ceremonies is a valuable glimpse into what a country deems important. The Korean Opening Ceremonies placed a big emphasis on harmony of the entire group—an Eastern virtue, seen in the way that Asian names state the family name first, then the individual’s name.
In addition to flag-crafting, Darren focused on one or two sports each week. He stopped at the library and checked out juvenile nonfiction books (light on text, big on pictures) on skiing, figure skating, luge, and bobsledding. The older kids read them on their own, and I sat down with Ranger and read them aloud. I learned almost as much as he did.
The younger two were given assignments, such as “Look at how figure-skating costumes have changed over the years and tell us about it at supper.” The older two wrote short reports on the difference between ski-jumping styles, and how international politics have affected the Olympics.
Further study: Politics and the Olympics—the Cold War tensions between the U.S. and U.S.S.R., the banning of South Africa until apartheid was abolished, and admitting athletes to compete under the Olympic flag when their country wasn’t allowed into the Games.
Throughout the month, each of us tracked how many medals our chosen countries won. More valuable lessons included:
- When choosing countries to follow in the Winter Olympics, don’t choose hot countries. You end up with a very empty chart.
- People who pick Canada, Germany, or Norway get really uppity by the end of a Winter Olympics.
Two nights were dedicated to the 1992 movie Cool Runnings, a Disney-fied version of the first Jamaican bobsledding team. For everyday viewing, Darren found several short YouTube links for us. It was a good way for the kids to see a sport in action without having to sit through an entire competition. But Darren and I watched some of the broadcast every night, and kids who wanted to could join us.
Further study: The metric system. Everything in the Olympics is measured by meters and kilometers.
Conventional wisdom says that the only sport worth watching is figure skating. That was probably true back in the days when your other choices included Alpine or cross-country skiing—two sports that require incredible skill and stamina but aren’t very exciting to watch. But these days the options are a lot more interesting. Ice dancing is to figure skating as Dancing With the Stars is to ballet. Snowboarding is full of tricks and flips and the occasional heartbreak as an athlete wipes out during an otherwise flawless performance. Even more impressive is freestyle and halfpipe skiing, which employ the same tricks and flips as snowboarding but on short skis.
Further study: When were the newer, more dynamic sports added to the Olympic lineup? Are some sports rotated in and out? How long after a sport was added were women allowed to compete?
Further study: Sportsmanship. How do competitors react when they lose a medal to another player? Or even harder, to a teammate? Also, the sport of curling is a very honor-based sport, where you settle the score as much as possible without official judges. What is the honor code?
We even held small-scale versions of some events to take advantage of unexpectedly warm weather. I created a curling arena with chalk and plastic bottle caps, and we played on our front porch. Darren came up with a “biathalon,” the sport that involves skiing and shooting; he had the kids run a short distance, then drop a penny into a cup—with a penalty run if they missed. I can’t say that all the kids loved these activities, but they figured it was better than math or handwriting and so played along.
We will finish off with a special meal honoring South Korea, including trying some kimchi from a local Asian restaurant. This year’s February School has been a fun journey through the 2018 Olympiad, and a very welcome break from the everyday drudgery of school.
So now, rested and refreshed, we’re ready to pick back up. We’ll finish the course and get the gold! Or, you know, the bronze. Or we’ll just keep pushing until we cross the finish line no matter what. It’s what Olympians do.
Photo Credit: Graphic design by Sara Jones.