I hated gym class when I was a child. As a fairly uncoordinated, unathletic kid, I was traumatized by dodge ball, changing rooms, and the Presidential Fitness Tests. By the time I reached high school, I pretty much begged my parents to get me a doctor’s note to excuse me from gym (they took pity on me and eventually relented).
Now that I’m a mom, I love PE — or at least the idea of it. I don’t want my kids to be sitting still throughout the school day. I’d much rather that they were up and moving. And given the childhood obesity epidemic, it’s more important than ever to keep our kids active.
Therefore, it’s good news that more states are requiring PE at the elementary, junior- high and high-school levels, according to the National Association for Sport and Physical Education and the American Heart Association’s “The 2010 Shape of the Nation Report: Status of Physical Education in the USA,” which they issued this week.
The bad news? According to the report: “Most do not require a specific amount of instruction time, and about half allow exemptions, waivers, and/or substitutions” including marching band and cheerleading.
Part of the reason I hated PE was that it was too competitive for me — it was more about how many sit-ups you could do or how many times you could run around the track than learning a new skill and getting better at it.
The experts agree that PE should, ideally, instill a love of physical activity. Only now that I’m an adult have I learned to find athletic activities that I love — bike riding, Pilates, yoga, walking.
“Physical education is more than just kicking a soccer ball around. It’s learning about healthy habits, nutrition, and PE helps kids understand the importance of staying active,” says Nancy Brown, CEO of the American Heart Association. “Every student should be taking PE.”
The number of states requiring PE is up by 17 percent since 2006, but the report found only five states required PE in every grade from kindergarten through 12. Alabama is the only state that requires the recommended 150 minutes per week of PE in elementary schools and 225 minutes per week for middle and high school students.
The American Heart Association strongly supports state and federal legislation which would make physical education an integral part of the curriculum.
The report says activities like marching band or cheerleading shouldn’t substitute for a formal P.E. class. But, I’m not so sure about that – cheerleading and even marching band is great exercise. What’s most important is fostering a love for physical activity that will encourage kids to stay active throughout their lives.
Maybe when it comes to PE, it’s the quality, not the quantity that counts.