Understanding the World

Olympics give children a glimpse of a diverse world

It’s been a momentous couple of weeks in the world of sports – the Games of the XXXII Olympiad finally began in Tokyo and, more importantly, my granddaughter Daisy participated in her first school Sports Day!

Although Daisy has always been a physically active child and has been to several sports classes from football to gymnastics, this was her first experience of an inclusive sporting event and of celebrating and sharing in sporting achievements – in her case, with her fellow nursery children. With no spectators allowed this year (in the interests of social distancing) we had to rely on Daisy sharing her experiences and recollections from the occasion. 

Off to the races

Wearing a ‘gold’ medal around her neck, an excited (and slightly sweaty) Daisy talked enthusiastically about what had happened. She described the individual events she participated in (her favourite was the egg-and-spoon race), the little details that mattered to her (she was relieved that she could participate in the sack race using a red sack), and what it was like to be a spectator at the races that the older children participated in. 

A preschool child holds up a pretend gold medal from her school sports day
Daisy was excited to receive a medal during her school sports day

Like all the other classes in her school, Daisy’s nursery class is identified by a designated country name. Gradually, the children have become aware of the word that identifies their class’s country name and now they can easily identify that nation’s flag, as well as some of its most famous cultural exports. 

The school has the diverse mix of cultural backgrounds that you would expect to find in a London school and, over the past few months, Daisy has also become aware that some children have relatives in other nations. It all contributes to Daisy’s developing awareness of similarities and differences of the people in her local community.

Let the games begin

Now the school summer holidays have arrived and this year they coincide with a continuing summer of international sporting events, from the European Football Championships to Wimbledon through to the aforementioned Summer Olympics. 

During a visit to see a family friend last week, I had a wonderful conversation with her little boy: he showed me his Olympic mascot toy and told me about the sports he’d been watching. I recognised his delight in following his very first Olympic Games. 

Daisy is a similar age to him, and has also ‘discovered’ this edition of the Olympic games on TV; after cheering on the England’s men’s football team, she’s now excited to support the athletes of Team GB.

She’s already interested in watching sports that are familiar to her – she was particularly keen to tell us about the cycling, and was eager to watch the swimming given how much she’s currently enjoying her beginner-level lessons at the local pool. 

After participating in a sports day at school, Daisy knows that the swimmers and cyclists hail from different nations, and that there will be medals for some. 

Fun with flags

As a medal winner herself, I’m sure Daisy is going to be interested in the medal ceremonies too – another opportunity to look at the different flags along with the other classes at the school

The flags on display at these events have caught Daisy’s attention and she wants to search for and spot the national flags of her nursery class and her future Reception class. I thought Daisy’s interest in the many different designs and colours of the flags could inspire a little bit of creative time and found some printable flag images for colouring.

A preschool child uses a felt pen to colour in the national flags on a printable sheet of flags
Printable flag designs offer a simple and fun activity to tie into the Summer Olympics

This proved to be a successful activity! Unprompted, Daisy decided to try and recreate two flags she’d seen earlier that day, when the podium placings for the men’s mountain bike race began to flash up on the TV screen. 

First was her interpretation of “our flag” – the Union Jack – drawn from memory, and then the Swiss flag, which had made an impression on Daisy because it was her favourite colour and because the cross in the centre “looks like a plus sign!” She also tried her hand at making up her own simple flag designs in peach and red.

A selection of four flag designs coloured in by a preschool child
Daisy’s flag designs, with her interpretations of the Union Jack and the Swiss flag in the top row and two of her own designs below

As well as national flags, Daisy has become familiar with the iconic Olympic rings. This creates the opportunity for a fun I-Spy activity whenever the family is out and about, because right now the rings are omnipresent on advertisements great and small!

Last week, Daisy spotted the Olympic rings on the side of a double-decker bus and she immediately wanted to know where that bus was going – her Mummy and Daddy had to explain that, disappointingly, the bus was on its way to a residential suburb and not, as Daisy might have hoped, transporting our athletes to Tokyo!

Granny Smith says

  • Lots of great activities can be built around flags and flag design – you can print off some flag images for colouring; create your own flag design; make some flag bunting together; make two matching set of cards with flag images and play pairs games, or group the cards by colours on the flags, flags with stripes on them 
  • The opening of the Summer Paralympics in late August will provide further opportunities for Daisy to understand diversity through the exciting spectacle of athletic competition. 

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