This subject has been on my mind for a while now and I haven't really done anything about it except make room for it in our schedule. That's a step in the right direction, but it hasn't led to an increase in physical activity.
Here's what my excuses have been:
- "I don't know what to do!"On one hand, I have no idea where to start; and on the other hand, there are a ton of choices available to us for physical activity. A quick brainstorm and some internet research on the matter led me to these ideas:
A. The Presidential Physical Fitness Award: Remember this from your school years? It's available for homeschoolers as well! I want to implement this program in our home school because it has great goals and my kids love to earn awards.
B. Family Time Fitness: This site has been adding fuel to my "We need Physical Education in our home school!" fire. I love their article about how "going out to play" is NOT Physical Education.
C. My local Parks & Recreation department: Sporting programs in a nutshell. Research on my local site led me to a private swim club that meets just ten minutes from my house in the mornings before school.
D. Marathon Kids: Running is free and great exercise. I've actually remarked to Michael that I'd like to instill jogging as a healthy habit for our family because it's universally accessible in all phases of life. All you need is a pair of shoes!
E. The Ultimate Home School Physical Education Game Book, by Guy Bailey: I have seen this title thrown about in almost every homeschooling article about physical education. I'm going to try to get my hands on a copy of it soon.
- "I don't want to get my clothes sweaty!"This excuse is just lame. That doesn't keep me from using it! I like to dress nicely for school, as I think it imparts a certain respect for our academic home life. However, leading my brood through jumping jacks and sit-ups doesn't go very well with pencil skirts and blouses. I've been thinking back on my elementary school days in Canada, where my classroom teacher was also my gym teacher. (There weren't specialized PE teachers at my Canadian school like they had at the schools I attended when we moved to the States.)
My classroom teachers wore nice clothing to school each day and still managed to guide us through the basics of team sports and personal exercise. If they could do it, so can I...right? I figure I have two choices: 1. Start dressing down across the board, or 2. Lay out a PE outfit to change in and out of each day for that hour. (The second option is the one my Canadian teachers used.)
- "It takes up so much time!"
My research has brought up the mandate that children need 1-3 HOURS PER DAY of vigorous physical activity. NEED. As in, not optional. I cannot shortchange my children's health now to get ahead academically. Obesity is a rising problem in our communities that can be easily observed every time we step out of our homes. Wouldn't it stand to reason that a child who is taught to be inactive physically can very easily transmit that philosophy to other areas of their lives, say, like academics? I might be able to get ahead in some subject areas by skipping PE, but will that develop the best possible version of my child?I can across a quote from John F. Kennedy that I really liked:"The Greeks understood that mind and body must develop in harmounious proportions to produce a creative intelligence. And so did the most brilliant intelligence of our earliest days - Thomas Jefferson - when he said, not less than two hours a day should be devoted to exercise.
If the man who wrote the Decleration of Independence, was Secretary of State, and twice President, could give it two hours, our children can give it ten or fifteen minutes."
--John F Kennedy (1917-63), 35th President of USA, Address to the National Football Foundations, 5 Dec 1961. (Found at http://www.exrx.net/Psychology/Quotes.html
Once again, I'm led to remembering my Canadian elementary school teachers. In the fourth grade, my teacher started out EVERY day with leading our entire class on a run. At the beginning of the year we started with a route that took us halfway around the school boundaries, by the end of the year we were running the entire boundary line twice. When it was winter, we ran around the gymnasium ad nauseum. The only way you got out of it was if you were wearing dress shoes. A few of us tried dressing up every day, but that wore out after a week and we all took to the course. I remember a lot from that year of school, I think mostly due to the invigorating run we took before starting our studies each day. We were still able to get through all of the required subjects that year, despite the thirty minutes dedicated to our morning run. (I seem to recall that my class had less behavioral problems that year as well, a boon any teacher would love to possess.)I believe that there is a big pay-off in training our children in self-discipline, and that Physical Education plays a major role in teaching self-discipline. Physical Education is your mind telling your body that it is going to do X, Y & Z, even though it doesn't want to do X, Y & Z. It's practicing foreign movements over and over again until they become natural, which isn't that different from spending time with a spelling list or math table and committing either to memory. The difference between the two is that one uses physical muscles and the other uses mental muscles. There needs to be balance in our children's lives, and neglecting Physical Education throws the education of the whole person out of proportion. Generations of our ancestors have learned Latin, Calculus and Philosophy while helping out around the farm and engaging in vigorous physical activities. I'm pretty sure we can step up the task as well.I also came across a sobering quote:"Those who think they have not time for bodily exercise will sooner or later have to find time for illness." ~ Edward Stanley
- "I feel like a complete idiot 'leading' my kids through a workout!"Fake it 'til you make it, sister. Odds are, your kids will think you are brilliant and never realize that you feel like a lizard in a tutu as you instruct them through the finer points of executing a sit-up, hitting a ball off a tee or stretching your hamstrings.
I live in a densely-populated neighborhood and I am guaranteed that my neighbors are going to see us, so I also understand the nervousness that accompanies taking PE outside of your house. We have a park in our neighborhood that I take my kids to during our newly-schedule PE time and I've come to realize that no one is home during the day. Not that many people will see me leading my kids through the movements. In the three years that we've been doing "real" homeschooling (ie. Homeschooling with a mandatory-aged child), I've received only one comment about us being outside during the day, and it was admiration from a friend who saw us going for a walk in a rainstorm with our umbrellas. I highly doubt that was the only time someone has seen us outside, but it just goes to prove the point that everyone else is too wrapped up in their own lives to bother noticing me. (While you would think that would be a depressing thought, it's actually been incredibly liberating!)
- "I don't have enough room to do PE!"This is an issue for us. We have a spit of grass in our backyard and something that resembles a front yard which is studded with utility boxes, saplings and a cement path cutting through the middle of it. You're not going to run off any energy in this space. By the time you make a full stride, you need to start planning your turn-around. Time for another brainstorm:
A. Exercise videos: In extreme cases, these can obviously work. They're not exactly inspiring to me, but they will accomplish my goals. I've found ballet, Tae-Bo, plyometrics, Kung-Fu, and even "Yoga with Phonics" DVDs for kids.
B. Driveway PE: Sit-ups and push-up can be done in the driveway. You can jump rope in the driveway, even if there's only two of you. You can stretch on cement. It's not my ideal, but it is a completely viable option.
C. Go for a walk or a run: Once again, walking and running are free. Shouldn't we all own a pair of athletic shoes anyway? If you're not physically active, this may be the best place to start--just go for a fifteen minute walk and start adding minutes as the weeks go by.
D. Nature is a playground: Go for a swim at your nearby reservoir or lake. Do a nature hike (double counts for science!).
E. Public parks: They're all over the place, you just have to get to them. You can drive or walk to the park. If it's far away, then work up to walking the distance. Bring strollers for Littles, who will likely be motivated to get to the park, but struggle with walking the entire way home.
I'd much rather spend my day reading out loud to my kids on the couch. I like sports and being active, but I love reading and learning a few gazillion times more. I am responsible for their education and training their bodies physically is a crucial assignment on the path to educating the whole child. It is my attitude and my diligence that will make or break this subject for us. I need to take hold of this responsibility and make it work for us.
These days are the days that establish my children's attitudes towards exercise and healthy choices--what do I want to teach them about those areas of their lives? What choices do I want them to make and what habits do I want them to adopt? Now is the time to guide them to the ideal behaviors they'll need to stay healthy as adults. It's a big responsibility and I feel its importance keenly. I don't want to let them down.
I'd love to hear your ideas about PE in your homes! Please take a moment to share your thoughts in the comments section!