Physical Education for Healthy Kids

by Beth Cline

Ask a group of children what their favorite subjects are in school and no doubt, PE class will be at the top of the list. The inclusion of physical education in elementary schools has been, in recent years, the topic of many nationwide debates. As the United States faces a growing childhood obesity epidemic, one thing is for certain, parents and teachers need to find a way to work together to keep kids healthy and active.

Quality PE in schools is one of the best ways to help children learn the importance of an active lifestyle. Beyond the fact that studies have shown students with regular physical activity built into their school day are actually better focused on mental tasks and less likely to engage in disruptive behavior, physical education offers children the opportunity to learn fitness skills they can use for a lifetime.

The most important aspect of a child’s PE class is the quality of their experience. Children should receive as much activity time as possible, contributing to the recommended 60 minutes a day of physical activity the Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends. Parents can assure this in several ways:

• Hold parent/teacher meetings regularly to discuss what the child is learning and accomplishing in PE.

• Ask the child frequently what he or she is doing in PE. Are they getting time to be active? Are activities helping them learn a skill?

• Encourage the school and PE teachers to teach a variety of skills: sports techniques and concepts, cardiovascular exercises, muscle strengthening sessions, motor skills and even movement patterns to provide a well-rounded fitness experience.

• Support teacher use of programs like the President’s Physical Fitness Challenge, which motivates and rewards children to excel in physical activities measuring muscular strength, agility, and cardiovascular health such as running, push-ups and sit-ups. Reaching a goal helps children remain focused on the purpose of physical activity but also have fun.

PE in schools is a great start for a child’s physical activity but PE alone is not enough. Here are a few teacher recommended ways to support PE outside the classroom:

• Reinforce what is being learned in PE class. Ask children to showcase what new skills they’ve learned, whether its how to throw a curve ball or how to swing a tennis racket, and practice the skills they are still mastering.

• Work on skills as a family. If a child is trying to improve his or her one-mile run time, go for jogs together, if the goal is to hit a homerun, work on batting practice at a nearby park.

• Provide an example for children to institute and maintain healthy habits. Aim for the recommended 30 minutes a day of physical activity, plan balanced meals to eat with children, limit your own TV and computer time in the evenings and play outside together.

• Be educated. The more informed parents are about healthy eating, good exercise habits, and an overall healthy lifestyle, the more they can find new ways to help children value the same ideals.

A great way for parents and PE teachers to work together is to get children involved in physical activity outside of the school. Lynbrook Elementary School of Springfield, VA found a great way to do just that. Students participate each October in the Healthy Kids Fun Run, held in conjunction with the Marine Corps Marathon. PE teachers help motivate and prepare children for the one-mile run with the help of additional training and support by parents and families.

For the last five years, Lynbrook has received the MCM Healthy School Award for having the most students participate in the event. Students are rewarded for their efforts with a special assembly and presentation, including a donation from Washington FAMILIES magazine to be used for continued physical education. “The MCM is proud to work with FAMILES to honor Lynbrook Elementary for their dedication to instilling the values of both mental and physical fitness in their students,” said Rick Nealis, MCM Race Director. “By supporting health and exercise both in the classroom and in the home, Lynbrook is creating a fitness community that benefits students, teachers and families alike.”

By working together to ensure quality physical education in schools, parents and teachers help children develop both physical and mental strength that will help them succeed in all aspects of their life.

Articles in the Healthy Kids Series are presented by the Marine Corps Marathon Healthy Kids Fun Run to be held on Sunday, October 29, 2006. Visitwww.marinemarathon.com  for registration information. The one-mile run welcomes children ages 6-13. Beth Cline is the Public Relations Coordinator for the Marine Corps Marathon. No federal or Marine Corps endorsement implied.

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