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Olympic athlete offers some great life lessons

If anyone doubts that preschool children can absorb the complexities of the Olympic Games, they should come spend some time in my classroom.

As the Olympics approached, I prepared for the excitement. I created a workbook for each child, where we would journal and draw about each new Olympic topic. I designed Smartboard lessons that showed each sport in action. I prepared to discuss all the life lessons inherent to competition of any kind: grace in losing, modesty in winning, perseverance, integrity, honesty and motivation.

Yet something was missing. I wanted to personalize the Olympic experience for the children. So I created a Web site called "Kindergarten Olympics." I explained to the world that we were a class from New York State that wanted to know more about the Olympic experience. I hoped that people who were attending the Olympics would become our eyes and ears, and would write to us about the events they attended. It was a shot in the dark, but worth a try.

Well, the Greek gods were shining on us. Somehow, we attracted the attention of some Olympic athletes. Their letters and photos transformed the experience from the two-dimensional television screen to a full-blown emotional journey for my students.

One of our favorite correspondents was figure skater Jeremy Abbott's mother. Her first e-mail to us explained that their family motto is "PCF." (Meaning that when you try really hard, anything is possible; even Pigs Can Fly!) She sent us photographs of Jeremy, of Vancouver and of their PCF puppet, named Bobby. Bobby gave us his own almost-daily insights to the Olympic experience. The children were hooked!

My students watched Jeremy's performance short program. They were sad about his performance and placement. They had hoped he would do better. I told them that just being at the Olympics was an honor. This did little to assuage their disappointment.

Enter Jeremy's mom, Allison.

Allison's post to us the next day was titled: "A Recipe for Making Lemonade; when life gives you lemons, make lemonade." I decided that lemonade needed to be the plan for our day as well.

My students tasted sour lemons, and then we made them into sweet lemonade. We took a photo of our sticky experience, and e-mailed it to Allison and Jeremy. We wanted them to know that we learned an important lesson from Jeremy's "lemony" short program.

Subsequently, the children were thrilled to watch Jeremy's free skate performance. His program was solid and he moved from 15th to 9th. Jeremy had done just what his mother had urged him to: make sweet lemonade out of sour lemons. What an Olympic lesson for the children!

Sure, we watched other athletes struggle and fall, soar and succeed, medal and celebrate. We journaled, crayoned and discussed our way through biathlon, snowboard cross and short track. We mapped the athlete's countries, played their sports in gym, re-enacted different events and had our own opening and closing ceremonies. But I have no doubt that the most lasting lesson was Jeremy's.

Life may not always give you exactly what you want most -- even if you try your hardest. The lesson we learned is that it isn't about what happens to you -- it's what you do with the events that happen. That is an Olympic-sized lesson that my class and I will never forget.

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