‘Indoor Winter Olympics’ Lets Kids Go for Gold Without Putting on a Coat

Speed skating, figure skating, the ski jump ⏤ so many Olympic events they can play in living room.

by Brett Ortler
An illustration of kids playing "Indoor Winter Olympics" at home

‘Indoor Winter Olympics’ is an easy way to get your kids into the Olympic spirit while helping them stay active indoors during the cold winter months. It’s basically a series of Olympic events ⏤ ski jump, speed skating, and figure skating ⏤ reframed as activities for kids and played in the comfort of your warm living room or kitchen. Kids can imitate the athletes and events they’re watching on television, while you can pretend to be a typical sports commentator and use terms like triple axel and clap skates. Plus, it’s easy to expand the ‘Games’ to take up more time by devising creative, kid-friendly versions of other events.

Prep Time: Fifteen minutes (more if you go all-out)

Entertainment Time: 20 to 40 minutesEnergy Expended by Child: Substantial

What You Need:

  • A smartphone with the Olympics theme cued up
  • A blazer and a tie if you want to really ham things up à la Mike Tirico
  • Paper and markers for the judges’ scorecards
  • Tape to mark the furthest ‘ski jump’
  • Wax paper and rubber bands

Set Up:

Start by setting up the Olympic “events” without the kids present. Again, I opted for figure skating, speed skating, and ski jump, as the motions are easy to imitate and they don’t require much equipment. For figure skating, clear some space for a rink where the “routines” will take place. You’ll need at least a 6×6-foot area on a slick-ish surface — tile or hardwood floors are ideal — and it should be free of any obstacles or furniture. After you make room, create the judges’ scorecards. Write out 1-10, with each number on a piece of paper. When the figure skating “performance” is done, these are the scores the judge will hold up.

For speed skating, you’re looking for a long hallway or big stretch of room, again with tile or hardwood floors, around which to mark an oval track. Create lanes using either tape or objects that won’t go flying if they get kicked. Make sure there is a start/finish line and the track’s edges/boundaries are clearly designated.

And finally, there are two options for the ski jump, depending on how comfortable you are allowing kids to leap off furniture. They can either: a) jump off the couch (the jumping ramp and take-off table) onto a line of pillows placed on the floor (the landing hill); or b) off of smaller toddler stool onto the floor or carpet. Essentially, ski jump is just a standing broad jump but where kids imitate Eddie the Eagle, or an actual current ski jumper. If they’re jumping onto the floor, use tape to mark off three or four lines so it’s easy to tell who jumped the farthest without having to measure.

Once the events are ready, set up the opening ceremonies. Draw your best rendition of the Olympic symbol on a whiteboard — mine ended up looking like a weird cluster of grapes — cue up the Olympic theme, and crank up the volume. Then summon your kids for the Opening Ceremony. As they enter the room, introduce the athletes and ask each their name and what country they are representing.

How to Play:

Now it’s time for the first event — we started with figure skating. First, they need to put on their ‘skates’ ⏤ an individual sheet of wax paper secured around the ankle with tape or rubber bands. (Here are some quick instructions.) To introduce the event, I chose a dramatic song — “My Heart Will Go On” from Titanic — and demonstrated what to do by imitating a skating routine as the song played. My wife called the play-by-play and mocked me. I was obviously opting for silly, so I quickly attempted, and then utterly failed a “triple lutz,” followed by a number of other botched moves. (My collision with our coffee table was very real, so be sure to move yours out of the way first.) After my routine was over, the judges (the kids) scored my performance, and I obtained a presumably historic perfect zero.

Then, it was their turn. I let them choose their favorite song, and they waltzed and leaped and spun around the room until Fitz and the Tantrums’ “Handclap” was over. I then held up scores, applauding wildly. Remember, though, wax paper on hardwood or tile can be slick. It’s supposed to be. Just make sure they’re careful as they skate so you don’t have to call in any athletic trainers. Also, you can either conduct a medal ceremony at the end of each event, or at the end of the entire Games.

Either way, with the wax paper still on, move to the speed skating oval or track. If you created lanes, make sure one skater is in each at the starting line. If you didn’t, no big deal ⏤ ‘Mass Start’ is a new event this year so just line everybody up on the line. Before they begin, it’s fun to go over the speed skating motion ⏤ bent over, arms swinging side to side, skates kicking out ⏤ to they can pretend to be real Olympians. When everyone is at the start, announce “Ready, set, go!” and the race begins. Depending on the number of kids, it can be fun to do multiple heats or a quick bracket to secure the three medal winners.

And finally, the ski jump. Before you start, though, make sure everybody takes the wax paper off of their feet ⏤ you don’t want any broken arms. Next, imitate a ski jumper so they have an idea of what the jumps are supposed to look like ⏤ be sure to exaggerate the arm motion (down and by your side) and forward lean. Have them practice the motion a few times before letting them take a few actual practice attempts. Again, either off the couch and onto plenty of pillows or off a stool onto the carpet or floor. If you’d rather not let them jump off anything, a standing broad jump works just fine. Better safe than sorry, sometimes. Either way, when everyone feels good and comfortable, start the competition. One jumper goes at a time and everybody gets three runs. Longest three jumpers take the Olympic podium.

If you have the time and want to extend the Games, other good events include wax-paper cross-country skiing (using spatulas or spoons as ski poles) on a much longer course that winds through the house, biathlon (if you have some Nerf guns around for the shooting), hockey, or even pretend curling where they can sweep the kitchen floor.

Wrap Up:

No matter how many events you end up doing, though, Indoor Winter Olympics is a fun (and competitive) way to help kids burn off energy. Not only that but they can imitate their Olympic heroes without it costing you a dime, or having to endure the nightmare-inducing trauma of getting everyone into their cold-weather gear and actually outdoors.