During the 2012 London Olympics my family had only just moved to the U.S. from the U.K. and were feeling left out. We couldn’t watch the opening ceremony live with our friends, attend an event or watch BBC commentary. To help get into the spirit the children and I staged our own Summer Olympics in our yard. I made a track from masking tape; we held lots of different events and staged our own medal ceremonies.
As a nation with very little snow, Team GB doesn’t exactly feature in the highest ranks of the Winter Olympics, so it’s nice to now live in a country that does. To familiarize my three girls with winter events, we watched videos and then chose some of our favorites to try out.
How can you play Winter Olympics without snow? Strangely, the children didn’t ask that question; they were perfectly happy to let their imaginations run wild (or maybe they trusted that Mum would come up with a good idea).
Below are how we staged some of our favorite events. Add your ideas for a family Olympics in the comments!
It was an icy day so we used the road as our rink for our version of the ice sport of curling. We drew circular targets on the ground with pavement chalk and used Frisbees and plastic plates for the discs. The object was to get the discs into the target by skimming them across the floor. The outer circle scored two points and the inner circle five; if the disc went beyond the targets it had to return to the start.
For added authenticity I gave the children a broom to scrub and make the track go faster. If the weather isn’t icy any smooth surface will work well. Ask the children to choose how many rounds they would like to play. The winner is the team with the most points.
Luge and Bob Sleigh
The speed of the luge was a firm favorite so we tried it out on our recent snow day. One child would lay on their tummies on a sledge while another child pushed them off with a shout of "Oi, Oi, Oi." On a dry day we tried the bob sleigh on a gentle slope with the children pushing each other on ride-on toys and wagons. We timed each person’s run with a stopwatch to see who was the fastest. You could do something similar with a bobsleigh theme.
For the figure skating competition, the girls chose music and decided to ice skate on the wooden floor in their socks. They did individual dances that I scored and then a partner dance.
They also suggested they might like to dance in their roller skates outside but since my eldest doesn’t have skates that fit they preferred to do it indoors.
If the weather turns cold again, I’m going to put a thin layer of water in the paddling pool to form an ice rink – the girls have been gazing hopefully out of the window each day but sadly, no cold spell.
Small-world ice rinks have also been popular, using miniature figures for the skaters, and frozen containers and mirrors for them to skate on.
The water table had frozen over so we created a finger ice hockey rink. The goals were made from fast food cartons, milk bottle lids were the puck and Popsicle sticks the hockey sticks. Each player had one stick that acted as defence and one stick for offense.
We also played hockey using our football goal, a lid as a puck and golf clubs for the sticks (since we don’t have hockey sticks).
Recreating the ski events was hilarious. The children have their own skis but I thought it might be a little difficult to play with the real thing.
Instead we made cardboard skis and strapped them onto their slippers. These worked quite well indoors sliding along the floor but once we took them outside things didn’t go so smoothly. My youngest daughter hated having her skis on and stood frozen to the spot crying until I took them off. The cardboard that I used for her sister’s skis was too thin so they quickly turned into a floppy mess.
It was time to go back to the drawing board. The girls were perfectly happy to play the ski event without skis, a clear indication that the experience is more important than authenticity. I gave them ski poles (which my youngest also rejected) and set up a slalom using garden chairs for the flags. They loved running through the obstacles without knocking over the flags. Later I built a ski jump ramp, they ran down the hill jumping off the ramp at the bottom and we measured the distance they had jumped.
Using the car track we also made a ski run for the LEGO men. My eldest made skis for the men from flat pieces of Lego and raced them down the slope. You could also make a slope from cardboard tubes or even in the dirt.
To get some real experience of ice and snow we will visit a Sno-Park and ice rink.
Enjoy the Winter Olympics; I hope it makes its way into your children’s play!
Editor's note: This article was updated. It was originally published in January 2014.