Prioritizing Physical Education

By Christine Bannister Moore

Your memories of childhood PE classes most likely include climbing ropes, the 50-yard dash, the bent arm hang and itchy school uniforms. But due to a rapid decline of PE curriculums in America’s schools, your child probably doesn’t know what its like to climb a rope and has never even heard of the bent arm hang.

The irony of physical education curriculums disappearing from our schools is overwhelming, as we have clearly recognized the importance of physical activity and the alarming rate at which our nation’s children are becoming overweight.

Studies show that children who participate in quality physical education programs fare better physically and mentally than children who are not physically active. The Center for Disease Control reports that a quality physical education program will help children by:

  • Improving self-esteem and interpersonal skills
  • Gaining a sense of belonging through teamwork
  • Handling adversity through winning and losing
  • Learning discipline
  • Improving problem-solving skills and increasing creativity

Exact numbers and statistics on the actual amount of physical education children are receiving are not easy to find. “Statistics are not available because not enough people are asking for them,” said Sheryl Stanley of PE 4 Life, a national organization lobbying to increase funding for physical education programs. “There is evidence that PE programs are decreasing, at what rate exactly, we don’t know. Unfortunately, there is also evidence that recess time is being restricted. What is clear is that we are seeing an alarming trend of increasing juvenile diabetes, childhood obesity and other health risks that occur as children get older.”

Unavailable statistics may reflect a decrease in the importance of PE overall. It’s estimated only 25% of schools in our country have a daily physical education requirement. Even so, getting around this requirement is easy if schools don’t have the funds, teachers or facilities to provide these classes. It is very likely most American elementary school students receive only two 40-minute sessions of physical education per week, which are often replaced by a Health class.

While many physical education programs are slipping through the cracks, there are movements taking place in our country to increase physical education, in and out of America’s classrooms. Parents, legislators, and even students themselves, are taking matters into their own hands to ensure quality physical education is a part of classroom curriculum.

At the Department of Defense schools on Marine Corps Base Quantico, the majority of external support for physical education comes from parental involvement. Jan Weiss, Principal of Quantico’s Ashurst Elementary School says, “Our parents and teachers know the importance of physical and health education as it relates to efficient movement and physical activity. Parents play a vital role in Field Day events and many other physical education activities.” Parents of Ashurst students run the annual swimming program, making this unit a prominent feature during the school year that otherwise wouldn’t exist.

As a parent, there are several steps you can take to ensure your child is getting quality physical education in school:

  • Emphasize to school boards and legislatures the vital role of PE and physical activity during the school day.
  • Press, to principals and school board officials, for PE curriculums that promote lifetime fitness.
  • Insist on high qualifications for PE teachers.
  • Assist in finding trained and qualified volunteers to teach additional Health or PE classes.
  • Volunteer. Schools need additional support for PE and Health curriculums, as well as support for events such as Field Days and other activities.
  • Take time to teach your children about sports and physical activity at home, if you feel your child isn’t getting proper instruction at school.
  • Visit the Healthy Kids Corner  f or information, resources, ideas and strategies you can use to help your child maintain an active and fit lifestyle in and out of school.

For more information on movements towards increasing physical education, steps you can take to support such movements and actions to take in your own community, visit these web sites:

President’s HealthierUS initiative helps Americans take steps to improve personal health and fitness and encourages all Americans to be physically active everyday, eat a nutritious diet, get preventive screenings and make healthy

National Association of Sport and Physical Education develops and supports quality sport and physical activity programs that promote healthy behaviors and individual 

The VERB campaign encourages young people ages 9-13 to be physically active every day. The web site offers resources and information to make regular physical activity “cool” for youth and a fun thing to do.  or 

Take 10! is a classroom-based-program, which integrates ten-minute intervals of activity into the school day, combined with academic lessons to reduce long periods of inactivity.

BAM! Body and Mind, created by the Center for Disease Control, gives kids, parents and teachers the information they need to learn about healthy lifestyle choices for topics kids have reported as important to them 

Articles in the Healthy Kids Series are presented by the Marine Corps Marathon’s Healthy Kids Fun Run.

The Marine Corps Marathon’s Healthy Kids Fun Run will be held on October 30, 2004 in Arlington, VA and is an exciting and safe way for kids to participate in an organized running event and be exposed to the joy and satisfaction of being a physically fit individual. Visit them on the web at  Christine Bannister Moore served as the Public Relations Coordinator for the Marine Corps Marathon.

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