Is your child a sports fan? Then this is the unit study you’ve been waiting for! Throughout this week, we’ll explore science, math, history, geography, and even art and music through an athletic lens, focusing on football, baseball, soccer, hockey, and basketball. We’ve also included plenty of book options (most based on true stories) for your sports history buff—so feel free to pick the option available to you or find another at your local library. Click here to print your weekly skills tracker, and then play ball!
Note: Occasionally we include project modifications (which can be useful for including younger siblings) and upgrades (for children ready for more). We’ll mark those with the minus (-) or plus (+) symbols.
What you need:
Books (find at your local library or order below on Amazon):
For this unit, we have provided a variety of books around each sport topic—many of them are true stories that share a bit of sports history with your child! Choose the book that most appeals or you are able to find in your local library, or you can use whatever is available to you.
- Salt in His Shoes: Michael Jordan in Pursuit of a Dream by Delores Jordan and Roslyn M. Jordan (or listen to this read aloud)
- Allie’s Basketball Dream by Barbara Barber (or read it here on OpenLibrary or listen to this read aloud)
- Players In Pigtails by Shana Corey (or read it here on OpenLibrary)
- She Loved Baseball: The Effa Manley Story by Audrey Veronica (or read it here on OpenLibrary)
- The Bambino and Me by Zachary Hyman (or read it here on OpenLibrary)
- Dad, Jackie, and Me by Myron Uhlberg (or read it here on OpenLibrary)
- Winners Never Quit! by Mia Hamm (or read it here on OpenLibrary)
- G Is for Golazo: The Ultimate Soccer Alphabet by James Littlejohn
- (-) Kick With My Left Foot by Paul Eden (or listen to this read aloud)
- Pigskins to Paintbrushes: The Story of Football-Playing Artist Ernie Barnes by Don Tate (or listen to this read aloud)
- Family Huddle by Peyton Manning, Eli Manning, and Archie Manning (or read it here on OpenLibrary)
- The Greatest Game Ever Played by Phil Bildner
- The Day Roy Riegels Ran the Wrong Way by Dan Guzman
- Go Ahead and Dream by Karen Kingsbury
- The Mighty Tim Horton by Mike Leonetti (or read it here on OpenLibrary)
- Crosby’s Golden Goal by Mike Leonetti (or read it here on OpenLibrary)
- Z is for Zamboni: A Hockey Alphabet by Matt M. Napier (or read it here on OpenLibrary)
Supplies (use what you have, but here are links to shop if you need anything):
- paper + access to a printer (don’t have one? we like this model)
- white cardstock
- small white plastic cups
- orange paint (optional)
- silver permanent marker
- orange ping pong balls
- permanent markers
- wood chopsticks or thin dowel
- bouncy balls (any kind of ball that bounces can be used)
- laminator + laminator sheets (optional, but recommended for repeating lessons)
- fine tip dry erase markers
- plastic cups
- small soccer ball (or something similar)
- poster board (these are cheaper to buy locally)
- yard stick
- glue stick
- paint or coloring pencils
- small canvas or thick drawing paper
- hard boiled eggs
- scrap cardboard
- washi tape (or you can use markers)
- pom poms
- masking tape
What to do:
We recommend doing the below lessons in this order to build on each skill your child will develop, but don’t feel that you *need* to do them in this order. Do what works for you and your child. If they love an activity, feel free to repeat! Not a winner? Skip and try the next thing. Have fun!
Today is all about basketball! Get ready to alley-oop and score big with today’s activities. Select your favorite basketball book from our list (or one of your own favorites) to start.
Activity 1: Let’s score big while working on making 10 (plus a little sorting practice) with this printable. Print the pages on cardstock (if desired, for more durability) and cut out the basketball equations. Then, let your child work on solving each equation and sorting under the correct basket if it makes 10 or not.
(+) If your child is ready for harder problems, use the blank basketballs sheet to work on making 20 or 30.
Activity 2: Let’s play a memory game to work on this week’s phonogram, OE! First, print these basketballs on white cardstock or other sturdy paper and cut them out. (You may wish to print two sheets, depending on how many words you’ll work on.) Next, write the following words on backs of two of the balls. Finally, lay them out in front of your child, word-side down, and have them play memory to match and read the words.
Alternative outdoor game: Play spell and bounce. Using an actual basketball, practice spelling the words listed above, bouncing the ball between you and your child as you say each letter. For each word spelled, take a shot at the hoop.
Activity 3: You can’t have basketball without…well…a basketball! Let’s make your own bouncy balls with some science and this tutorial using:
- 1/2 Cup of Warm Water
- 1 TBSP of Borax
- 1 to 2 TBSP of Clear Elmer’s Glue (or Elmer’s Clear Glitter Glue)
Activity 4: End the day with this homemade basketball-and-hoop toy for a little hand-eye coordination practice.
Let’s hit a homerun with today’s baseball-themed activities! Begin with the book of your choice from our list, or choose your own, then…play ball!
Activity 1: Work on some number families with this baseball math facts game. Use tally marks to keep score.
Activity 2: Did you ever wonder how baseballs can get slammed with bats over and over again without breaking? The answer is something called elasticity. Elasticity is the property of an object that allows the object to recover its shape without breaking. The bounciness of a baseball depends on the elasticity of the materials that are used to construct the ball. Elasticity allows a baseball to retain kinetic energy when it is hit by a bat and gives the ball the ability to flex without breaking and return to its original shape.
The temperature of a baseball can affect elasticity because the colder a material gets, the less elastic it can be. Colder materials can actually absorb energy rather than transfer it. Both inflated balls (like basketballs and soccer balls) and solid core balls (like golf balls and baseballs) rely on the principle of coefficient of restitution. A warmed inflated ball is more elastic than a cold ball just as a warm solid core ball has more elasticity than an identical ball that is cold. (source)
The coefficient of restitution is a complicated-sounding term that simply means the measure of the elasticity of the materials in an object that allows the object to bounce back. In the game of baseball, the coefficient of restitution measures how a baseball bounces back to its original form when it is hit by a batter. Think about a baseball bat hitting a tomato. What will happen? The tomato will be destroyed in the collision. A tomato is not elastic and therefore has a low coefficient of restitution.
Kinetic energy is energy in motion. In the game of baseball, both the swinging bat and the pitched baseball have kinetic energy. When the baseball collides with a swinging bat, the baseball compresses as the kinetic energy goes into deforming the ball from its original round shape into a squashed shape that is stretched.
In the fraction of a second that the baseball compresses, the elasticity of the baseball transforms the kinetic energy into potential energy that is transformed back into kinetic energy as the ball leaves the bat and the baseball returns to its original round shape due to the elasticity of its materials.
Let’s bring this all to life and learn a bit more about the science of the bounce with this bouncy ball experiment. (Unfortunately, the balls from yesterday won’t work for this, but you can use any kind of ball that bounces or the bouncy balls we linked in the supply list.)
Activity 3: One of the most famous sports-theme songs in history is all about baseball! It’s called “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” and you’ve probably heard it sung by a crowd if you’ve ever attended a live baseball game. On May 2, 1908, the United States Copyright Office received two copies of a new song titled Take Me Out to the Ball Game, submitted by composer Albert von Tilzer and lyricist Jack Norworth. This musical work, affectionately referred to over the century as baseball’s national anthem, has become the grand-slam of all baseball songs. It has been ranked in survey polls as one of the top ten songs of the twentieth century and is second only to “Happy Birthday” and “The Star Spangled Banner” as the most easily recognized songs in America. (source)
What your child might not realize is that the original song is much longer than the version they may have heard. Click here to hear the original 1908 version, then click here for the more familiar version.
Today is all about soccer (or football, as it’s called in many parts of the world)! Enjoy your chosen book from our list, and then get ready to score a goooooooooooal with today’s activities. (If your child can’t get enough soccer lessons, don’t miss Lesson 5 from our Level 2+: Brazil Unit!)
Activity 1: The goal of football/soccer is to get goals. Successfully scoring a goal often depends on what angle you shoot from. Watch this video to learn more about kicks and angles.
The figure below shows three different shooting positions and the angles between the goal posts.
In the example on the left, the angle is 55 degrees, giving a very good chance of a goal from here. In the middle and right-hand figures, the angles are both 17 degrees, providing much narrower chances. Discuss where your child thinks it is best to shoot from. What are the pros and cons of each angle?
Let’s practice what we’ve learned in the videos with this football/soccer field printable. Laminate or put the printable in a plastic sheet. Students can create angles and measure them from different places on the field using a protractor and a fine-tip dry erase.
To play, plot a point on the field. Draw lines using the flat edge of the protractor from the point (vertex) to the ends of the goal posts. Finally, measure the angle that is created using the protractor. Label each angle and write the measurement. After plotting and measuring several points, find the greatest angle on your field. What point provides the greatest chance on the field of getting a goal?
If desired, wipe your sheet clean and plot more points!
Activity 2: Every national soccer team has its own jersey. You can look through some of them on this website. But for the World Cup, which is soccer’s biggest competition, the teams will typically design a special jersey just for the event.
The jerseys must first obey guidelines set by FIFA, soccer’s international governing body. Some are pretty basic—like making sure players’ jerseys aren’t easily confused with referees’ shirts, and that they have sleeves; soccer jerseys can’t be tank tops.
Other rules are more detailed, like banning jerseys that have more than four colors, unless they’re striped or checkered in two equal colors—in which case the jersey can use five colors. There are also specific rules about the size and placement of logos—including the manufacturer’s own, and stars indicating how many World Cups a team has won—and player names and numbers. FIFA even specifies that both sleeves must be free of logos, to make room for its own event badges.
Following FIFA’s rules is a must, but the ultimate approval of each nation’s jersey designs comes from its national soccer governing federation. (source)
Would your child like to try designing a World Cup-worthy jersey? Print this template, and then have them design a jersey following the below rules:
- Use no more than 4 colors
- Incorporate some type of pattern (stripes, checks, florals, etc.)
- A logo must be visible on the front (they can either use the real logo of a real team or invent their own)
- Finally, have them write their last name across the back.
Activity 3: Finally, let’s work on some parts of speech while sharpening our soccer skills. First, print these parts of speech word cards and tape each one to a plastic cup turned upside down. Your child will also need a small soccer ball (or similar ball). You may also want to review the parts of speech with your child before beginning:
- nouns: a person, place, or thing
- verb: a main part of speech that is often used to describe or indicate an action—sentences are not complete without a verb
- adjective: a word that describes an animal, person, thing, or thought
- adverb: a word that describes how an action is carried out
- pronouns: a word that stands in for a noun, often to avoid the need to repeat the same noun over and over
- preposition: a word that tells you where or when something is in relation to something else
Choose three different parts of speech and place them in a line about 5-8 feet from your child. For example, a noun, a verb, and a preposition. Give them the ball, and ask them to kick the ball at one of the parts of speech, such as the noun. If they correctly identify the right word, they score a point! If not, let them try again. (You can also let them roll the ball with their hands if they are having a hard time aiming their kicks.) Play until they’re ready to stop!
Ready for a different kind of football? American football was inspired by soccer and rugby, and it has quickly become a fan favorite for many people, and it has plenty of history for being a relatively new sport in history. Read any of our recommended books desired to learn about some famous players and moments in the game, and then get ready for kick off.
Activity 1: The 32 teams that are part of the National Football League (NFL) can be found all over the United States. Let’s work on some geography by mapping each team to its state and location. First, print this map and logos for each team, cutting out the logos. This website will help you identify which team goes with each logo if you’re not sure.
Next, look up the teams online to determine their hometown and glue the logos onto the map with a glue stick. (You can also use this map to check your work.)
Activity 2: Let’s work on some multiplication facts! Follow the steps in this post to create a football field on a poster board and learn how to play the game. You can also print this multiplication chart to keep handy for helping them memorize multiplication tables.
Activity 3: Did you choose to read or listen to the book Pigskins to Paintbrushes: The Story of Football-Playing Artist Ernie Barnes (or listen to this read aloud)? Ernie Barnes is the first American professional athlete to become a noted painter. You can also read more of his biography here.
Ernie Barnes was especially well known for his unique style of elongated characters and movement, which he also displayed in a number of sports-themed works and posters. All his life, Barnes was ambivalent about his football experience. In interviews and in personal appearances, Barnes said he hated the violence and the physical torment of the sport. However, his years as an athlete gave him unique, in-depth observations. “(Wilson) told me to pay attention to what my body felt like in movement. Within that elongation, there’s a feeling. And attitude and expression. I hate to think had I not played sports what my work would look like.” (source)
One of Barnes’ football-themed works is called “Victory in Overtime.” You can view it here. As your child observes the painting, encourage them to share their thoughts with some of these prompts:
- When you look at the painting, where does your eye go first? Why?
- How does this painting make you feel? How do you think the people in the painting are feeling?
- Does anyone in the painting look like they are standing still? Why or why not?
- Whose perspective is this painting sharing? Why do you think Barnes made that choice?
If desired, you can see more of his work here.
Adding movement to a static piece of art can be very challenging, but there are several techniques that can help artists accomplish it. Watch this video to learn more about incorporating movement into art. After watching, let your child try to create their own art with movement using paint or drawing supplies.
We’re down to the final period of our Sports Unit…which means it’s time for a little hockey! Read the book of your choice, and then get ready to hit the ice.
Activity 1: Let’s begin with some STEM work as we learn about friction and movement in this simple experiment.
Activity 3: Finally, let’s play a hockey game that will help your child review their money math knowledge. Create the rink using masking tape on the floor (it should only be about four feet wide) and designate a box for each player’s goal. (You may be able to use a similar layout to what you made for pom-pom hockey.) You will also need a handful of different coins.
Using one coin at a time, put a coin down in the center of the “rink” and compete with your child (or have two children play together) to get the coin into your goal. Once all the coins have been scored, each player should count up their change. The winner is the player with the most money at the end!
(-) Younger children can work on identifying their coins instead of adding them up.
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