How many years has it been since you did a shuttle run, played dodgeball, or jogged a mile during gym class?
In that time, physical education has changed, says Cheryl Richardson, senior director of programs for the Society of Health and Physical Educators (SHAPE). “The focus is on engaging students,” she says, “so they’re learning confidence and competence in various movement skills.”
The shift isn’t just to get kids to burn some energy. It’s about preparing them for success, both in their health and their academic performance.
P.E. Lets Kids Try New Things
Gone are the days of playing basketball or badminton for 3 solid weeks, when you could hang out on the sidelines if you didn’t dig the sport. Today, gym class is about variety. Kids might spend some classes trying yoga, Pilates, or rock climbing.
Sound too out of the box? That’s kind of the idea, says Gregory D. Myer, PhD, director of research at the Division of Sports Medicine at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center.
“A lot of kids specialize in a certain sport early, but P.E. gives them a broad exposure to many sports they wouldn’t necessarily try,” he says. “That can help them realize they love a new activity and teach them new movement skills that will help them throughout their life.”
P.E. Combats Childhood Obesity
Research has shown that gym class makes a difference on kids’ weight. A recent study from Cornell University found that phys ed lowered fifth graders’ body mass index (BMI) and their chances of being obese. Of course, obesity is a complex condition, and physical activity alone doesn’t solve it, Richardson says.
Still, “what P.E. provides is the opportunity to develop, practice, and reinforce healthy habits -- including understanding why it’s important to be physically active.”