Get Outside! P.E. Classes are Ditching the Gym

Physical education classes in middle and high school were a nightmare for me: Trying to shimmy up a rope with the rest of the class looking on and laughing, or playing tennis but always missing the ball because I had a lazy right eye.

Now some schools are taking a whole new approach to P.E. With the goal of providing ways for students to be active for life, they are ditching gym class and taking students outside for kayaking, biking, hiking and rock climbing.

The National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE) publishes guidelines for physical activity. They recommend that children between the ages of 5 and 12 complete at least 60 minutes of activity every day and avoid long blocks of inactivity.

In terms of school requirements, NASPE’s Physical Education Guidelines recommend 150 minutes of instructional P.E. every week for elementary students and 225 minutes per week for middle and high school students.

However, in the whole of the U.S., only Oregon and the District of Columbia meet these guidelines. In fact, only 19 states even care enough about P.E. to specify how many minutes schools should devote to it.

Meanwhile, around 17 percent of our children between the ages of 2 and 19 are obese, as many schools cut P.E. time and recess in favor of extra instructional time.

A big part of the problem is the format of the standard P.E. class, which hasn’t changed in decades from the standard 30 to 60 minutes in the gym and maybe some dodgeball.

Determined to bring physical education to where it belongs in the lives of young people, some P.E. teachers are thinking outside the gym.

In upstate New York’s Victor school district, students have options such as kayaking, rock climbing, mountain biking, dance, self-defense, archery and in-line skating. The idea is that they will develop skills that they can take with them way beyond the K-12 years.

With those options, I may have actually enjoyed P.E. class.

“We want our kids as they walk out of these halls in grade 12 to be active for life,” said Ron Whitcomb, the district’s director of health, physical education and athletics.

Likewise, all freshmen at Tahoma High School in Washington state are required to take a foundations class where they explore yoga, dance, and conditioning. Students at the school have been learning to fly-fish and to rock climb for several years.

kids-having-bike-lesson

Photo Credit: thinkstock

All second-graders in Washington, D.C. are learning how to ride a bike in their P.E. classes; fourth graders do parkour and sixth graders are outdoors practicing orienteering.

One reason for the change in attitude to P.E. is the passage in 2015 of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which replaced the No Child Left Behind Act. ESSA makes health and fitness rank on the same level as subjects such as art, music and science, as part of a well-rounded education. And P.E. programs are eligible for Title 1 funding under ESSA.

This new approach to physical education is just beginning to take off under pioneers like Whitcomb, who believes, “The most important job of a great physical education teacher is to appreciate every student in that class, not just the highly skilled.”

Surely when P.E. classes are focused on real-life skills that will keep students healthy for the rest of their lives, instead of working to pit them against each other, those students will learn ways to make fitness a necessary part of their lives, long after they have left high school.

This holistic approach to P.E. means that children will be able to look back on their time at school doing physical education with pleasure, instead of with the distate that many of us have felt about those classes in the past.

And they will be inspired to keep being active for the rest of their lives, which is so important for both mental and physical health.

 

Photo Credit: thinkstock

48 comments

Ann B
Ann B2 days ago

i hardly ever see children out playing -they are stuck to the computers and phones...we were always out and begged to go..things have changed!!!!

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Caitlin B
Caitlin B5 days ago

Thank you

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Angela K
Angela K12 days ago

noted

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Lisa M
Lisa M14 days ago

Noted.

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Lisa M
Lisa M14 days ago

Noted.

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Colin C
Colin C16 days ago

Yes get the children outside and not stuck in a school gym

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Kathryn I
Kathryn I16 days ago

Getting outside more often, as opposed to being stuck inside of gyms, is much healthier for kids in more ways than one. Nature also is very good for those who suffer from anxiety/depression.

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Celine R
Celine Russo17 days ago

Don't know if I would have participated but kudos for those who love fitness and the outside.

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Lisa M
Lisa M17 days ago

Noted.

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Lisa M
Lisa M17 days ago

Noted.

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