Did you just kind of flinch a little bit at the very thought of a bygone gym teacher? You’re not alone. A new study by University of Alberta researcher Billy Strean on people’s feelings about gym class found that almost everyone has horrible, horrible memories thereof.
Unsurprisingly, classic gym class activities like rope climbing, dodgeball or repetitive basketball drills actually discourage kids from athletics. Strean’s study found 70 percent of kids in Canada drop out of sports.
He advocates very loosely organized games where kids can simply let go and play, the way they are hardwired to do. I think that sounds like a great idea, and am noticing more and more gym teachers — at least of younger kids — are heading that way. My daughter doesn’t get gym at her school because she’s in kindergarten (instead, a staff member leads them in yoga, which I think is wonderful), but I have observed the gym class and it seems to be nice, friendly and noncompetitive, more aimed at teaching kids fun ways to play than driling them on athletic skills.
But I think what schools need to do, esepcially at the upper grades,is simply reinforce the joy of physical activity. Instead, the model of gym class probably all of us lived through sucked all the joy out of it and left many of us vowing to never, ever again attempt any sport or activity where anyone could see us. Traditional gym class is aimed at refining athleticism in kids that already have it, versus teaching anything about fitness. Exposing kids to a wide variety of fun, noncompetitive things that will turn them into lifelong lovers of activity is far more important to their long-term ability to be a productive person than meaningless skill-building tht the vast majority of them will never use.
Some schools are doing better. A good friend of mine teaches in a district that offers aerobics as one gym option, and I’ve heard of districts that offer yoga and running. If I’d gone to schools with any of those, I might stull have hated gym. But I can bet I would ahve discovered before my 20s that exercise is actually kind of fun.