There is one thing that really improves the Winter Olympics for kids: mascots. Sports may or may not attract their attention, but the friendly cartoon characters make the event accessible for all ages.
Vancouver Winter Olympics for Kids: Mascots Three!
Every Winter Olympics has its own mascot. In the case of Vancouver in 2010, there are three mascots. The characters each embody some aspect of the culture that is hosting the event, and usually is modeled after some animal native to the region.
In Vancouver, the mascots were a bit unusual in that they were mythical characters: in some cases, they were completely made up. However, by having three very different mascots with various physical and personality characteristics, kids had more opportunity to identify with and enjoy the mascots.
Miga the Sea Bear
The first character was Miga the Sea Bear. This little black-and-white cross between a bear and a killer whale sported a teddy-bear body with a tiny orca fin on her head. According to the site, she was in particular part Kermode Bear, a species that lives only in British Columbia.
In spite of being a strange cross of fierce animals, Miga just wants to have fun, and the site lists her primary hobbies as surfing and snowboarding. Her favorite foods are also native to the region and modeled after a real bear's diet of wild salmon.
Quatchi the Sasquatch
The abominable snowman makes the perfect Winter Olympics mascot. This heavy-set character loves hockey more than anything. However, the site talks about how his size can make him somewhat clumsy, a characteristic that kids can easily identify with. The site also says, "He knows that if he works hard and always does his best, he might one day achieve his dream." This is in keeping with the Olympic creed that it is the struggle, not the ultimate victory, that is most important.
Unlike the sea bound Miga, Quatchi lives in the "mysterious forests" of Canada. The designers worked hard to make what is often a scary legend into a big, friendly teddy-bear type, and linked him to one of the biggest draws of the Winter Olympics: hockey. There is even a video game on the site where kids can help Quatchi improve his skills as a goalie.
Sumi the Guardian Spirit
The third Winter Olympics mascot from Vancouver is named after "Sumesh" which means "guardian spirit." The most metaphysical of the characters, Sumi has parts of both of the others, described with the hat of the Orca, the legs of the black bear, and most of all the wings of the thunderbird, the most powerful supernatural creature of the Northwest mythos. Sumi moves fast, is a big fan of Alpine skiing, and emphasizes transformation and change. The video game for Sumi involves flying over the Canadian landscape, acquiring totems, and helping the other mascots recycle and renew the land.
Mascot-Based Activities for Kids
The mascots each have their own video, but there are much more direct ways for kids to interact and get involved with the characters. Aside from the games mentioned above, the activities page includes a quiz to figure out "Which Mascot are You Like?" as well as desktop wallpapers. Parents and teachers can also download printable cards and coloring sheets along with cut out 3-d models for kids to play with.
Looking to Russia
In 2014, when the Winter Olympics move to Russia, there will be new mascots and new ways for kids to learn about the country where the athletes are competing. The characters help spread the Olympic spirit of competition and the creed of one's best effort to people of all ages regardless of their nationality. Teachers may want, in preparation for Russia's mascot(s) in 2014, to create a list entitled "Winter Olympics for Kids: Mascots", in which all former mascots are included. Make a game of predicting what the next mascots can be. Overall, Olympic mascots are fun beyond national borders, and the ideas and characters last far beyond the sporting events that spawn them.