Physical Education: A Vital Part of the School Curriculum
By Dr. Kenneth Shore
Physical education receives rave reviews from many elementary students. For some, it is a chance to release energy they have been storing up during the day. For others, it is a chance to succeed in a way they cannot in the classroom. For still others, it is a chance to simply have fun. And for their teachers, it is a chance to promote their students’ physical development, teach them the rules of various games, help them learn to play fairly, and foster their enjoyment of physical activity.
Like other subjects, physical education has changed course in recent years. Gym class has become increasingly democratic, with the focus more on promoting the physical competence of all students and less on fostering the athletic excellence of the few. The goal is to help students enjoy physical activities and feel confident in their abilities. Towards this end, cooperative activities are often stressed at the expense of competitive activities. Students who shy away from team sports may be offered alternative activities. Even the range of activities has widened. Students in gym may now take nature hikes, do aerobics, or choreograph a dance.
The physical education program should have a curriculum with specific goals and objectives to promote students’ physical and emotional development. The focus at this level should be on developing large-muscle skills (throwing, catching, kicking, jumping, tumbling, etc.) as well as on playing simple non-competitive games. At this level, the goals are to help students develop coordination and gain confidence in their abilities.
Students in the upper elementary grades are better able to understand the rules of complex games and withstand the ups and downs of competition. Gym at this level thus involves more game playing although physical skill development still remains a priority. Fitness may get more attention and the students may learn to do calisthenics.
Physical education should emphasize skill development. A gym teacher who has his students playing the same game week in and week out while doing little teaching is doing an injustice to his students. In addition to needing exposure to a variety of games, children require instruction and activities designed to improve their body awareness, eye-hand coordination, agility, stamina, balance, strength, and flexibility. Physical education should also educate beyond the physical. Gym teachers need to help students learn how to be part of a team, cooperate in a group, play fairly, and win and lose gracefully.
Children who are clumsy, slow, or overweight often feel self-conscious during gym class. Being picked last for a team, not being able to do any chin-ups as others watch, or being taunted by a classmate for their awkwardness can be real blows to their self-esteem. These experiences can cast a shadow over their school day and dampen their enthusiasm for school. Gym teachers must be especially sensitive to these children, intervening when they learn of ridicule and minimizing the attention drawn to children’s physical failings.