Schools across the country are in full swing, and children studying a variety of subjects.  The “three R’s” are an important part of our lives in school.  We learn about reducing, reusing, and recycling to help our environment and to reduce waste.  We also learn reading, writing, and arithmetic which, of course, are important subjects to prepare us for future schooling, careers, and life.  With technology increasing at such a rapid rate, efforts are concentrated in STEM programs for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics in schools.  All these types of studies are important for students for the future and to be well-rounded and productive citizens.  For a variety of reasons, time spent in these classes are increasing drastically at the expense of another important subject — and arguably the most important subject — physical education.

State Policies (Or Lack Thereof) and Students’ Physical Activity Levels (Or Lack Thereof)

It’s well-known fact that children are not getting the recommended amount of physical activity outside of school hours.   According to the American College of Sports Medicine, only 27% of high school students 60 minutes of daily physical activity, 41% play at least three hours of video games per day, and 32% watch three hours of television each day.  Only 29% of high school students attend daily physical education classes.

According to a University of Illinois at Chicago study, 24 states and 67% of school districts have no physical education policy.  Thirty-nine states have no mandatory recess laws for elementary school students. Of the states that do have a recess policy, some do not require 20 minutes.

What Do Physical Education Classes Do

Most physical education classes can provide a different experience — assuming students take the PE classes — than they did in the past.  Gone are the days of highly competitive dodgeball, rope climbing for time, and endless push-ups, pull-ups, and sit-ups.  Physical education classes today teach children spacial awareness, balance and coordination, and fundamental movement patterns (jumping, hopping, throwing, catching, kicking, etc.).  As children age and progress through their school years, fitness goal setting and more sport-specific or leisure-specific activity skills are learned.  Regardless of grade level, physical education classes should foster an appreciation for physical activity and teach children skills to be physically competent.

If children are not taking regular physical education classes at a young age (and most aren’t if 67% of school districts have no PE policy), children are not gaining the skills needed to live active lifestyles or even have an appreciation for physical activity in their teenage and adult years.  As public health crises, such as obesity, are prominent, children need physical literacy skills.

PE is Beneficial for more than just Physical Literacy

Physical education classes are not just for the benefit of creating healthy students.  According to a study by Active Living Research, regular participation in physical activity benefits academic performance.   The Institute of Medicine cited more active students are better able to focus on tasks, have better working memories, and score better on standardized tests than less active students.

A review article by the CDC cited 11 of 14 studies found at least one positive relationship between enrollment in physical education classes and higher student academic achievement.

These all are reasons to add physical education back to school and curricula rather than eliminating it.  But in a world of crunched budgets and limited time, how do we effectively introduce PE classes back in to schools?

Reintroducing Physical Education to Schools

Limited time and resources are all too common in education.  What are some ways school administrators can add PE to their school schedules?  First, it will take a “buy-in” from them.  A “buy-in” that physical education can improve academic performance.  While the research does show that physically active children perform better in school and standardized tests, some administrators, parents, and teachers may be slow to adapt to those conclusions.  Once everyone agrees that it will improve academic performance, there must be a reallocation of resources or creative methods must be implemented to acquire these resources.

The Alliance for a Healthier Generation has a list of great, fun, fundraisers that schools and districts have done in the past that were successful and easy to implement.  By getting the school community (teachers, students, administrators) and general public involved in fundraising, everyone involved can see the benefits of physical activity and how students — and their children — will improve in school.

It’s time to have students benefit from physical education classes both physically and academically.  By having active children in schools, children will achieve better on standardized tests and in classes, and acquire the skills and appreciation for lifelong physical activity.

Featured Image: Templeton Elementary Field Day Beach Ball Games by Loren Kerns   CC BY 2.0