Here's To Your Fitness

It's Not Your Parents' Physical Education Class

Posted: October 30, 2012

What did you learn in physical education today?

If you are a parent, you probably ask your child, “How was school today?” or “What did you do at school today?” expecting to hear about math or social studies. But how often do you ask your child what he or she learned in PE?

You might be surprised at the answer!

You may remember “gym class” as a bona fide recess where the teacher rolled out the ball, allowed captains to pick teams and then facilitated some type of competitive game. Or perhaps you have memories of military style physical fitness training and testing, where the entire class lined up to watch each individual struggle to attempt the impossible pull-up.

Fortunately, physical education has changed for the better over the past several decades.

I recently asked my kindergartener what she was learning in PE and she responded, “I learned how to move my body at different levels, like high, medium, and low.”

You may ask what levels have to do with physical education, and the answer is, a lot! Movement concepts like spacial awareness, body shapes, directions and levels are fundamental to almost every sport or activity.

In the past, we assumed that children learned these concepts on their own, but we now know that is not the case. They need instruction and opportunities to practice these concepts in a variety of games and activities. Likewise, children need a variety of learning experiences and opportunities to practice skills like throwing, kicking, striking, balancing and transferring weight, which provide the foundation for adopting a physically active lifestyle.

Not only is physical education good for the body, current research tells us it is also good for the mind. In fact, we now know that children perform better in school when they are more physically active. The National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE) cites a number of studies showing that physical activity is positively associated with academic achievement as well as attention, concentration, and on-task behavior.

There is a tendency for policy makers to consider decreasing time for physical education in order to open more time for core subjects such as English and math. After all, schools are held accountable for students passing the standardized tests. No one can argue the importance of those core subject areas, but considering the positive relationship between physical activity and academic learning, we may want to think twice before decreasing or even eliminating school physical education.

So what can you do to be an advocate for your child’s physical education?

Get involved! If you volunteer at your child’s school, ask if the physical education teachers could use an extra helper.

If your school district is considering cutting back on PE to make more time for core subjects, let your administrators and school board members know that physical education is important and that it does not detract from academic learning and performance.

Check out the following resources for information about physical education advocacy:


When you ask your child how her day was, remember to ask, “What did you learn in PE today?” And please, don’t call it gym!