Every day I pick my children up from school asking probing questions about their day, “tell me one new thing you learned today, who did you sit next to at lunch, what was the name of a story you read today, how do you spell their” etc. Lately I’ve added to the barrage, “What did you do in gym class today?” They will quickly correct me calling P.E. or physical education instead of gym class and away we will go with the conversation. Why am I asking?
In recent years the quality of physical education in the USA has come under attack in a variety of ways. First and foremost because childhood obesity rates are on the rise, more than doubling in children and quadrupling in adolescents in the past 30 years, according the CDC and JAMA Pediatrics. Adding to a sedentary lifestyle, the Physical Activity Council reports many schools have eliminated PE from their curriculum, with 48% of all high schools and 45% of all school age children having no PE classes. Many parents turn to sports as a means of keeping their children physically active. However, sports injuries in youth continue to rise contributing to about 70 percent of youth athletes dropping out of sports by high school. Individuals like Larry Meadors, with the National Association of Strength and Fitness, site poor teaching of fundamental movements as a large cause of sport injuries. Nearly half of youth sports injuries are considered preventable with proper movement conditioning and training.
All of this information got me thinking, what are my kids really doing in P.E. and is my school making the grade when it comes to physical education? Even though I ask both my boys all about their gym classes, I’m still not sure how to answer the questions I have. The more articles I read, the more questions I have and the more important quality physical education becomes to me. Many research studies are showing increased fitness directly correlates to improved academics. Studies showing how exercise improves brain function are not limited to school age children; many studies target older adults showing exercise programs may improve cognition in them as well.
Everyone seems to react to all this data differently. While some schools don’t offer P.E. at all still, some schools nationwide are moving to provide daily P.E. to their students. Some schools are adding yoga and archery into programs to keep children engaged. Others are moving to an ‘old school gym class’ with squats, push-ups, sit-ups, planks, etc. Still others are offering more voluntary before and after school conditioning programs. Our school offers a morning mile run for 15 minutes before each school day.
I don’t know the correct answer or that there is a correct answer to how to successfully overhaul the US physical education curriculum, but I do know as a parent it is my job to continue to ask the question, “What did you do in P.E. class today?” And as a parent, it is my job to really listen to the answer because I want my kids to be active, I want them know how to properly and safely move, as they age I want them to add strength, and develop a lifelong habit of fitness.