Enlightened P.E.? Something Has To Get Kids Moving Again


8433712.jpgWas gym class designed to make most teenagers hate physical activity? Start with the mandatory ugly shirt and shorts. The showers (uh oh). The “coach” who basically sent you off to run laps before handing out some basketballs. Running “the mile.” And dodgeball, better known as “humiliate the slow ones first” -- all a recipe for disaster, or at the very least a long session with your mother begging for a note excusing you from P.E. class.

Sure, some kids loved P.E.—the ones who were quick, strong, and could even accomplish the dreaded “rope climb.” But most boys or girls could find many things in P.E. to loathe. Still do.

Enter some new notions of P.E., supported by research in the last 10 years that keeps telling us the same thing: we’d better get our kids moving in school if they’re going to get enough exercise at all.

The history of physical education in the public school system in America isn’t always a paragon of creativity, and yet we all know one thing: it gets youth moving. Today, more enlightened educators are turning once again to P.E. as a way to combat the fact that nearly one of every three U.S. children is overweight or obese.

Some of the “new” classes include walking, archery, rock climbing and yoga. Students are encouraged to walk or ride bikes to school. None put a big premium on eye-hand coordination first, which used to separate the ones who are always picked first from the others. The Washington Post reports:

Bows and arrows?” asked freshman Karlos Kinney, eyebrows raised. Thirty minutes later, any grumbling was drowned out by the sound of whap! whap!, followed by cheers and “I got it in the red!”

The school district is also investing in technology, including heart monitors, that teach students how their bodies respond to exercise and give them a picture of how hard they are working. The monitors also help teachers evaluate students based on effort rather than on how fast they are moving.”

Reporter Michael Alison Chandler continues in her article “U.S. schools develop a nicer version of gym class:”

Out are dodgeball and other sports that use kids as targets, contests that reward students who are the strongest, and exercise doled out (or withheld) as a form of punishment:Still talking? Four more laps!

In are personal fitness plans, target heart-rate zones, and sports that play to different strengths and introduce students to activities that they can pursue across a lifetime. “Physically literate” and “lifelong movers” are buzzwords of the New PE.”

New research published this week in Pediatrics, Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, restates what is becoming obvious, as the L.A. Times puts it: “More exercise at school may be key to improving teens’ health.”Reporter Karen Kaplan writes,

Public health experts recommend that kids spend at least 30 minutes of the school day engaged in moderate to vigorous physical activity. That would get them halfway to the goal of exercising for at least an hour each day.

To make that happen, a typical school would need to devote 7.5% of its instructional time to physical fitness. Instead, students in the study spent a mere 4.8% of their school day — or 23.2 minutes — improving their bodies instead of their minds, according to a study published ... in the journal Pediatrics.

Alright everyone, give me five (pushups that is)? Naw, we’re doing some rock climbing!


washington_post_graphic.pngVisit The Washington Post, Health & Sciences  to learn in detail how obesity harms a child's body with this wonderful educational interactive graphic created by Todd Linderman.


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  • commented 2015-12-14 09:34:21 -0500
    Lynn, I totally agree. I taught fitness to preK-8th graders for 5 years. Having been a kid who wasn’t into sports I always taught the more “creative” approaches to getting kids to move. One of my favorite courses was one in which the students got to create and then play their own games. The kids loved it! Sports can be a great thing for some people, but there are so many other ways to be active.
  • commented 2015-12-13 21:03:35 -0500
    I so remember the gym classes described in this article. They were humiliating and degrading. I didn’t care a wit for team sports. I was also very small (still am) and was knocked out of consideration for competitive games. Once, a classmate was given permission to teach a jazz dance class. My heart soared at the chance to move my body in a creative artistic way. It was also fun. If kids can learn yoga, pilates, and dance today, then we’ll literally be in much better “shape”.
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