Globe-trotting with the Olympics

With the winter Olympics underway, it’s the perfect opportunity to explore new cultures and show off your mad geography skills.  The host city for the 2014 Winter Olympics is Sochi, Russia which, interestingly enough, is a favorite summer spot for Russians, averaging 52 degrees for a winter temperature. Even Stalin had a home there. To ensure there would be no snow shortage for the Games, organizers stockpiled 16 million cubic feet of snow from the last few winters under special thermal blankets high up in the mountains, alongside state-of-the-art snowmaking machines.

Did you know…

Russia is the world’s largest country, claiming one seventh of the earth’s land.

Sochi is the world’s longest city, stretching 145 kilometers (90.1 miles) along the coast of the Black Sea.

Two favorite foods are caviar, an expensive delicacy of fish eggs, and borscht, a hearty soup made from beets.

Imperial Russia is a fascinating time period for kids who are history buffs.  The mystery that surrounds the demise of the Romanov family makes for some great reading.  Girls may enjoy Anastasia: The Last Grand Duchess, Russia, 1914 by Carolyn Meyer, or try the Missing series (Found) by Margaret Haddix. It’s a blend of time travel and mystery and focuses on the Romanov family in the sixth book, Risked

From the first winter Olympics in Chamonix, France in 1924 and two-time host Lake Placid, New York to the most recent Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Canada, the following link features some memorable host cities to start your global adventure .  Hone your geography skills with a globe or large wall map and locate the various Olympic countries on it. Simple atlases and maps can also be found in juvenile non-fiction. Try First Atlas from DK Publishing (J912 G196f) which, in addition to the maps, features many photos and facts interesting enough for the whole family.

Brush up on your countries knowledge playing the Travel-by-Letter game (Family Fun magazine’s Create & Learn 2011 special issue). Player 1 looks at the map/atlas and names a country – Peru, for example.  The next player has to find a country that begins with the last letter of that country’s name, U in this case, like Uganda.  Next player continues this pattern. Each country can only be used once, and if a player can’t come up with an answer, he’s out.  Last player remaining is the winner.  Feel free to adapt this to your children’s ages, perhaps only using states or cities.  

If the kids have been inspired to turn everything into a competition, create medals out of Salt Dough and have them ready for sledding races or jump roping contests.  Come summer they’ll be racing laps in the pool so you can even stage your own summer Olympics. 

Salt Dough

1 c salt, 1 c all purpose flour and ¾ c water.

Mix ingredients together, adding small increments of water or flour as needed for a manageable consistency. Feel free to add glitter or food coloring if you would rather not paint the medals once they’re dry.  Roll out and use cookie cutters to cut shapes or make impressions.  Stamp them with 1,2,3 or a smiley face or star instead.  Get creative! Be sure to poke a hole through the top for your ribbon before baking, approximately 2 hours at 210 degrees, turning once. Once cooled you can paint or just add a ribbon. Recipe courtesy of Anna at The Imagination Tree

No trip is complete without sampling some of the local fare.  Passport on a Plate by Diane Simone Vezza (J641.59 V597p) features easy to make traditional recipes that will send your “taste buds on a trip around the globe”.  Add some French croissants to the breakfast table or try the Hanoi style Bananas from Vietnam (p143) for dessert – melt 2 Tbsp each of butter and brown sugar in a skillet and saute banana slices just until slightly browned on each side, serve over ice cream.

And for a cold winter’s night I’ll leave you with my mother-in-law’s Borscht recipe, straight from the old country.

4 small potatoes, diced

½  bag pre-shredded cole slaw (cabbage & carrot mix, chop it finely)

1 stick celery, finely diced

1 Tbsp salt

approximately 10 cups water

1 Tbsp butter

1 small onion, finely diced

1 can condensed tomato soup

½ c sour cream

1 tsp dill

2 - 15 oz. cans sliced or whole beets (whole can be grated, sliced can be diced – your preference)

1 - 15 oz. can Great Northern beans, rinsed (optional)

In large pot, add water, potatoes, celery, cabbage and salt, bring to boil and simmer until vegetables are tender.  In the meantime, melt butter in medium frying pan and sauté onion until tender.  Add tomato soup and sour cream to the pan and blend well. Heat through and add to pot of boiling vegetables.  Pour beet juice from cans into boiling pot of vegetables.  Add diced/grated beets, beans and dill, more salt to taste if needed. Cover and heat over lowest setting about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Borscht tastes best when the flavors have had time to meld, often times better the next day.  Enjoy!

We have many Olympic-related titles in our non-fiction collections so if you're interested about past Olympics or specific sports or athletes, please stop in and we’d be happy to help you find what you’re looking for.  Some titles to get you started …

Olympig JP Victoria Jamieson

Hour of the Olympics JF Mary Pope Osbourne

Gold Medal Winter JF Donna Frietus

Freeze Frame: A Photographic History of the Winter Olympics J796.98 M177f


And for movie night…

Cool Runnings  JD

Chariots of Fire D Drama

Cutting Edge D Drama

Downhill Racer D Drama

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