Educational Philosophy, Home Education

Physical Education … an Overview

January 27, 2016 by Dawn Duran
[dropcap]I[/dropcap] can hear the groans through the internet. Just the thought of it makes some of you sweat — and not in a healthy and positive manner. More than any other subject, physical education is what slips through the cracks in your homeschool day, isn’t it? It’s okay to admit it. You’re not alone.

My goal is to convince and inspire you that physical education should play not only a cursory role in your [home]school but an integral one. We’ll take a look at what physical education is — and is not — and why it is important to emphasize if our goal is the development of the complete person.

In this post, Dawn covers what physical education is and isn't, what it requires, and its connection to virtue.

Why Physical Education is NOT Specialization

In this post, Dawn covers what physical education is and isn't, what it requires, and its connection to virtue.First, then — what is physical education? It’s a fairly broad subject, but is generally accepted to be one that promotes physical fitness in a school setting. While definitions of what does and does not promote fitness may vary, essentially physical education/physical fitness promotes the healthy use of our bodies with emphasis on an active lifestyle to promote good health over the course of our lifetimes.

What is not physical education? One thing it is not is organized sports in isolation. While this is an acceptable supplement to physical education in your school, it should not entirely replace it. Too often playing sports — especially emphasis on a single sport — fosters imbalances which lead to altered body alignment, which sets the stage for the development of injuries. Specializing in a single sport — and even worse, a particular position within a single sport — at a young age is a recipe for disaster. Rather than leading to a healthier body it can lead to a host of lifelong injuries. We’ll spend some more time on this idea in a future post.

Spending time doing only one thing is not physical education. “Just” cardio. “Just” lifting weights. “Just” cycling. As with specialization within a sport, emphasizing one form of movement at the expense of another will not amount to becoming physically fit. In education we talk about developing the whole person, and in its component part physical education we must be sure to address the whole body.

Yesterday I observed first hand the concern I have with early specialization in sports and overemphasis on one type of movement over another. The temperatures warmed enough to allow us to play outdoors and I wanted us to take advantage of this opportunity before colder weather hit. I created a Jedi Training Center for my Star Wars obsessed boys, ages 5 and 8, which quickly drew the attention of other children in our neighborhood. I elevated a wood beam on top of two empty 5-gallon buckets. I made a hole in a tennis ball and ran some rope through it. I flung the rope over a low tree branch and tied the rope around the trunk of the tree. The boys traversed the wooden beam while attacking the swinging ball with their light sabers, having a blast while developing core strength, balance, and hand-eye coordination.

What physical education is and isn't, what it requires, and its connection to virtue.

light saber balance training

Another element of our Training Center made use of the remaining rope I had on hand with which I created a tightrope elevated approximately one foot above the ground. I accomplished this by tying the rope around two tree trunks a few feet apart. I added a second rope a few feet above the first for the boys to hold on to while walking across the tightrope.

What physical education is and isn't, what it requires, and its connection to virtue.

tightrope course

Finally, I rested the upper portion of a ladder on the cooler we had handy in the backyard. This was placed next to a chain link fence that the boys opted to climb over after crawling up the ladder – an added bonus for which I hadn’t planned.

They had a blast developing upper and lower body strength, cardiovascular fitness, flexibility and core stability. Was this physical education? Absolutely! Did they realize it? Not at all. Would it count as P.E. in our homeschool records? Without a doubt. Labeled as two hours of strength and conditioning it fits the bill to a T. Obviously there are safety issues with our Training Center that I would have to iron out if it were to remain a permanent feature in our yard. It is not for the faint of heart — or for unsupervised play! — but it was a big hit yesterday.

What physical education is and isn't, what it requires, and its connection to virtue.But wait — what was the observation I made that confirmed my concerns about overemphasizing one activity over another? One child who joined in our fun is the local basketball star. This 12-year old boy is out on the court for hours a day in all kinds of weather — and he is good. He is a joy to watch on the court and he is an inspiration to my boys to work on their basketball skills. When he saw the fun we were having he ran over to take part. Being the star athlete that he is he thought he would be able to participate in Jedi Training to an even more skilled degree than the younger kids. I certainly thought that would be the case.

Imagine his surprise when he couldn’t keep his balance on the beam and strike at the ball at the same time, and his shock when he couldn’t make it across the tightrope without significant difficulty. At first I, too, was surprised — but then it dawned on me. This wonderful athlete lacks total physical development. He is so driven on the basketball court and so focused on developing those sport-specific skills that he has neglected the development of other general elements such as balance and core strength. There is no carryover from a specific situation, such as basketball, to a general one. However, if we develop the skills on the general level through well-rounded physical education programs then this will translate into solid sport-specific skills when the time is right.

As with so much in life, variety is key. We should offer our children a wide number of movement experiences to ensure their optimal physical development and to promote well-rounded fitness and health. But how? Truly — you are only limited by your imagination. Setting a timer and “exercising” for 30 minutes is only one snapshot of what fitness might look like. Family walks are one great way everyone can incorporate healthy movement into their day.

Creating obstacle courses for the kids, playing games like tag, climbing trees, swinging on monkey bars, human wheelbarrow races — these are the things that should comprise the physical education of our children. It has to happen consistently, though, to qualify as such. Feel free to supplement with a soccer or basketball league if your child demonstrates the desire to participate. Just don’t limit physical activity to these practices, which happen two to three times a week. Your children need vigorous movement in a variety of experiences for a minimum of an hour every day to promote optimal bone growth and muscle development

 

The Discipline Connection

What physical education is and isn't, what it requires, and its connection to virtue.One key element of physical education regardless of the form it takes is discipline. Daily physical activity won’t happen without it. Discipline is a virtue that we all wish we had more of, and it is a great gift we can instill in our children. Making daily physical activity a habit in your home is one means of promoting this virtue that will offer a lifetime of reward.

In The Liberals Arts Tradition, Kevin Clark and Ravi Jain write:

[T]he mental discipline and focus required in athletics has implications for the discipline and mental focus required for academic study. Physical discipline produces self-control, while perseverance through difficult activities produces patience and creates habits of hard work in attaining goals — virtues that are as invaluable in the classroom as they are in an athletic event.

Physical education in the classical sense is referred to as Gymnastics. While this term tends to give many of us a visual of short muscular girls flopping around on mats or doing unimaginable leaps and sticking landings on a narrow beam, historically speaking this is not what the term Gymnastics was originally intended to convey. Rather, Gymnastics referred to the physical development of the whole person. If a person is body, mind and soul then they cannot be fully developed without addressing all components.

 

The Making of Heroes

Finally, I’ll close with a theme that Brandy has discussed on Afterthoughts in the past: the goal of physical education being that of raising heroes. Future men and women of virtue with bodies as fit as their minds to prepare them for the role of world changer through servant leadership. It’s a big job — and they’ll need a lot of strength and endurance for the long haul ahead of them. As parents and educators it is our responsibility to nourish this aspect of their development by providing them with a movement feast just as we lay before them a feast of ideas in an effort to nourish their minds.

I’ll be spending time here at Afterthoughts regularly in 2016 and I look forward to discussing the role of health and fitness — “physical education” — in our [home]schools with you. Some ideas I plan to address include Swedish Drill in a CM education (Interruption: would you prefer a lot of the Swedish Drill information found in future posts in one easy to read place? My eBook Swedish Drill Revisited is 50+ pages of Swedish Drill information, a complete open-and-go curriculum that will assist you in instructing your children two complete Swedish Drill routines. It’s entirely self-contained and has everything you need to make Swedish Drill happen consistently in your homeschool or co-op. Click here to read more or here to see sample pages or click here to purchase. Now back to your regularly scheduled blog post), the pros and cons of team sports, incorporating fitness on days we must stay indoors, etc. If there is anything particular you would like to discuss please be sure to leave me a comment so I can make it happen!

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37 Comments

  • Reply Brian April 2, 2016 at 6:43 pm

    Hi Dawn,

    I really appreciate this series of posts you’ve created. I’ve spent some time reflecting, and have written a response which you are welcome to read, though I respect that this is a busy world and that your other commitments may not allow you to attend to such a lengthy reply. Nonetheless, here is what I’ve written: https://theorderoftheredlynx.wordpress.com/2016/04/03/p-e-vs-gymnastic/

    • Reply Dawn April 3, 2016 at 3:35 pm

      Thanks, Brian! I actually clicked over to TORL earlier today when I saw your Pingback and left you a comment there. I enjoyed your musings on this series and look forward to a continued conversation about all things gymnastic.

  • Reply P.E. vs Gymnastic – T.O.R.L. April 2, 2016 at 5:32 pm

    […] Dawn Duran posted a short overview of physical education on the Afterthoughts blog, worthy of any human’s consideration in our day and age. […]

  • Reply Carol February 2, 2016 at 3:57 am

    I like your Training Centre, Dawn! Looking forward to what you’ll have to share this year.

    • Reply Dawn February 2, 2016 at 10:13 am

      Thanks, Carol!

  • Reply Yvonne January 30, 2016 at 1:35 pm

    I recently re-found this blog and have been really benefitting from and enjoying the posts here. It is posts like this one that keep me coming back because YES!! I have been struggling with our society’s focus on kids being in sports and yet feeling like I want to teach my kids healthy skills and habits that they can keep throughout life, even without a team. So we cross-country ski, hike, swim, walk, play on the playground, and ice skate. But somedays the backyard looks boring to the kids and going somewhere seems like too much work, so I would love ideas on how to “change it up” so that we can easily do “backyard PE” – ideally without me having to lead them. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts here. I am looking forward to your next post!

    • Reply Dawn February 1, 2016 at 11:05 am

      It sounds like your children have an abundance of opportunity for varied movement experiences, Yvonne. Good work! I will attempt to tie in all the requests regarding Backyard PE into my next post. Thanks for commenting!.

  • Reply Celeste January 28, 2016 at 8:28 pm

    This is wonderful, Dawn! Your point about total body athleticism hit home for me as a runner who spends little exercise time doing anything else. 😉 I have started taking my kids on runs with me, but I want them to be well-rounded too…and maybe working out alongside them will help ME develop more overall fitness also. We have done little intervals and stuff here in the house on rainy days, but I have let that slide since baby arrived. You are inspiring me to get that going again, and just in time for Term 3! Looking forward to reading your thoughts each month!

    • Reply Dawn January 29, 2016 at 2:11 am

      Thanks, Celeste!
      Even though you spend your personal exercise time “just running” you are still modeling something incredibly important for your children – the joy of movement! That is an inspiration not every child is blessed with. We’ve talked before about my triathlete husband’s influence over my boys and I am grateful for it. They get plenty of opportunities for more well rounded movement in other ways, and I love that they are developing a passion for fitness through their dad while spending quality time with him. In fact, my husband and oldest went for a bike ride on Friday – two hours after a major snow storm hit us. It was not yet blizzard-quality, but it was pretty crazy to watch them ride away in the whirling snow. Yet it’s a movement experience my oldest will never forget.

      The opportunities for your kiddos to engage in activity are really endless, Celeste. You have a ready made playgroup for games like Freeze Tag, Red Rover, What Time is it Mr Fox?, etc. In addition, as they get older, you can incorporate sport-specific exposure to any number of sports and actually have it be applied because you can break all eight kids into two teams – 2 on 2, 3 on 3 or 4 on 4!! Soccer, basketball, volleyball – it’s pretty enviable, actually!

  • Reply Purva Brown January 27, 2016 at 4:10 pm

    Interesting post! I have always thrown in random physical activity into our homeschool but my kids do no organized sports (…yet. Let me add that.)

    • Reply Dawn January 28, 2016 at 11:52 am

      Thanks, Purva!

  • Reply Jessica January 27, 2016 at 4:02 pm

    I am SO EXCITED about this series! After reading “The Liberal Arts Tradition” I’ve realized again the importance of physical activity/gymnastics (especially since my children are all in the grammar stage right now). So now I need to put those ideals into action! = ) I’d love to learn more about how we can do “backyard” PE with activities that include easy set up (like something my 9 & 8 yo could set up on their own!?) Thanks so much Dawn!

    • Reply Dawn January 28, 2016 at 11:54 am

      I appreciate your enthusiasm, Jessica! This is something I get pretty passionate about, too. I like the “backyard PE” idea and think that – in combination with the practical and simple movement ideas that Jen requested – this just may be the inspiration I need to write my next post. Thanks!

  • Reply Jen Snow January 27, 2016 at 2:14 pm

    You are such a fun mom, Dawn. I wish we lived in your neighborhood. 😀

    Great post. I am reminded we really ought to get out and playing more. I am terrible about this. Thank you for the reminder.

    • Reply Jen Snow January 27, 2016 at 2:37 pm

      Oh and an idea: very practical and simple movement ideas for the non-athletically inclined (mother and children both). That’s us. My kids play outside a lot, and we are trying to be better about taking nature walks, and swim a lot in the summer – but what other kinds of things could/should we be doing given that sports aren’t and won’t be in the picture for us?

      • Reply Kelly January 27, 2016 at 2:46 pm

        I’m glad you mentioned that, Jen. I’m interested in that too, as well as hearing Dawn’s thoughts on Swedish Drill. Dawn, you’re a physical therapist, right? I looked into SD years ago, but didn’t like the illustrations at all — the posture all looked so stiff and unnatural. But then I’m an admirer of Esther Gokhale’s work and coach my kids with her ideas in mind.

        • Reply Dawn January 27, 2016 at 3:03 pm

          You are absolutely right, Kelly. I am not a fan of the postures found in many of the images in the Swedish Drill teacher. The principles of SD are wonderful, I believe, and I had fun doing some research on it prior to giving my talk at AO’s At Home last summer. I hope to work create something that uses modern health science principles to re-vamp SD for modern use.

          I’m not familiar with Gokhale’s work. Thanks for bringing it to my attention!

          And yes – I am a PT.

      • Reply Dawn January 27, 2016 at 2:59 pm

        Ooooo – good idea, Jen. I’m getting the picture that my next post should include more specific ideas like the Jedi Training Center. Does that sound about right?

        I wish we lived in the same neighborhood, too! Oh, the good times that would be had!

        • Reply Jen Snow January 27, 2016 at 4:17 pm

          Yes. Simple movement ideas would be great. I’m keen to see where you go with the SD stuff too. I wasn’t able to go to your session at the AO retreat (any chance of a reprise this year?!)

          And yes, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we lived in the same neighborhood? Sigh….

          • Dawn January 28, 2016 at 2:18 am

            At least we’re on the same continent this year! 🙂

  • Reply JoyH January 27, 2016 at 11:18 am

    This is great information and very inspiring, Dawn! I love the simplicity and efficiency of what you did with your boys that works a ton of good in them; with it being a natural part of their day–in this instance, play. That is what CM is to me, simple, efficient, and natural, yielding exceptional results.

    • Reply Dawn January 27, 2016 at 11:40 am

      Thank you so much, Joy. One of the things I hope to do in these posts is to emphasize that – in the younger years particularly – PE really is all about play. Unfortunately, when it comes to reporting requirements for homeschooling the idea of “doing PE” can be paralyzing for some parents, but it doesn’t have to be. I keep a one page calendar for the current month in the portfolio I keep for homeschooling records and I jot down notes daily for the activities that qualify as PE. We have an abundance of those in our house!

  • Reply Beth January 27, 2016 at 10:34 am

    Hi Dawn!

    I’m very excited to see this series. This is definitely an area I struggle in. I have a question for a future post: Do you have suggestions for increasing physical activity for naturally cautious children? My daughter has always leaned toward the verbal / intellectual side, even before toddlerhood. I thought she would grow out of it as she aged, but has not so far at 5. She loves to run and kick things, but has poor upper body strength and balance. And probably poor core strength too. As an example of her cautious nature, she is still nervous going up and down stairs (we don’t have any at home, but she is around them at least once a week), she doesn’t climb or pull herself up on things, and she is scared of slides even though she thoroughly enjoys them when she occasionally overcomes her fear and tries it. She is definitely a feet on the ground type of girl, and I want to bolster her confidence as well as help her develop other muscle groups.

    • Reply Dawn January 28, 2016 at 12:00 pm

      Thank you, Beth, for your feedback and question. I’ll have to ponder that one further and see if I can flesh out some thoughts about it better. Off the cuff, though, I wonder if you can help address some of your concerns by playing games like tug of war (feet still on the ground but developing upper body and core strength as well as having balance benefits)? Another thought is to play “wheelbarrow” with her, which most definitely develops upper body and core strength. Her hands would be on the ground rather than her feet, but still within contact. I love using 2×4 beams for my boys – even just placed on the ground – and having them walk or crawl on them – both of which are good for balance and core strength, and crawling would address the upper body aspect. Thanks for the prompt to think this through a bit further, too, Beth. I’ll see what I can come up with.

  • Reply Ashley Antkowiak January 27, 2016 at 8:20 am

    I’m so excited to meet you in person soon, Dawn! This post was wonderful. As a soccer and lacrosse player from when I was 5 through high school, I can definitely attest that specializing in one position doesn’t make for a fit person. It took many weeks of conditioning for me to transition to the crew (rowing) team in college! And once I had children I had to find completely new ways of staying fit than I had ever done before, since soccer, lacrosse, and rowing weren’t options with little ones in tow! I thoroughly enjoyed this post and look forward to your next one!

    • Reply Dawn January 27, 2016 at 10:10 am

      I’m looking forward to meeting you, too, Ashley!

      As a former Division I volleyball player I know where you are coming from in terms of seeking new ways to stay fit ourselves once our athletic “career” comes to an end. I have struggled with maintaining a healthy weight since my last child was born, though, and am nowhere near as “fit” as I once was. Some of it is coming to grip with different expectations – for my level of “fitness” and for my physique – although I still have many pounds to shed before I’m comfortable with the latter:).

      I “discovered” crew when I was in college and always wanted to join the club at my school but was never able to due to my volleyball commitments. How cool that you rowed at St John’s!

  • Reply karen in ky January 27, 2016 at 7:27 am

    I’m so thrilled to see you are going to be posting an entire series on physical education, Dawn – Afterthinkers are definitely in for a treat!

    This all makes perfect sense – I love, love, love your Jedi training exercise. We’ve done similar things with our family, and now the neighborhood troops as well. They just love it. I’m almost finished with Last Child in the Woods, and it saddens me to understand the scope of just how important outdoor physical ‘play’ is to healthy kids, and how few American children are actually able to have just that.

    And I really appreciate your handling of the dangers of ‘specializing’ in a sport at critical developmental stages in youth. We see this often in our area, and even while experts – and I include you here – warn against such intensive training for kids, parents just nod and keep doing it anyway. We watched Trophy Kids (streaming on Netflix now) last week, and it was eye-opening.

    So thank you for taking the time to contribute your excellent post here. Thanks, Brandy, for hosting – really terrific idea!

    • Reply Dawn January 27, 2016 at 10:12 am

      Thanks for the vote of confidence, Karen. 🙂

      I’ve had Last Child in the Woods on my bookshelf for nearly a year. Now I want to read it more than ever! I’ll have to check out Trophy Kids, too, as that might give me more fodder for considering a future post so I appreciate that tip.

      • Reply Hillary January 29, 2016 at 3:06 pm

        Last Child in the Woods is fantastic. I read it when my oldest was in 1st grade. It helps me feel better about watching my boys aloft in the tree with silk “sails” flying while neighbor kids trudge home & indoors after school. We’ve had nostalgic & wistful comments from neighbor adults, too, when they see our HS friends up the street & mine playing in our trees in the afternoons.

        Dawn – my question is twofold: how can parents make available experiences that appeal to a range of age and skill levels in children? (one of mine is always at the treetop, while another is almost always just marching on the ground) and, can you give us some good developmental guidelines in terms of appropriate skills for particular age (ranges) so we can respect yet challenge/guide/teach our children as people who are equipped differently based on their ages, affinities and physical makeup? (part 3 – can you actually decipher that question? 😉 )

        • Reply Dawn January 29, 2016 at 3:44 pm

          I can, Hillary (decipher the question) and think it would be a great idea to address this – all of it – in a future post. Thanks for giving me more food for thought and an interesting challenge to brainstorm.

  • Reply Jasmine Brenneman January 27, 2016 at 7:25 am

    Hi Dawn,
    What a great post! In the fall, I will have a boy in kindergarten and a one year old. When we go outside, I am usually following closely behind my little one and not able to join in a game with my older one. For pe time next year, our activities will be limited to one-person games and activities. I love the idea of a Training Center like this! Do you have any other ideas for pe that would work for homeschooling just one child?

    • Reply Dawn January 27, 2016 at 10:16 am

      Thanks, Jasmine!

      I certainly remember this challenge and understand it very well. PE can still happen, though, with only one child participating and it can still be fun rather than tiresome. Creating obstacle courses or different stations in your yard for your oldest to play through – switching up the direction periodically (ie not always going from the first station to the last but reversing that) is one idea. He could have to complete the course using different means of moving between the stations in the course (ie sometimes running, sometimes hopping like a frog, sometimes crawling like a bear) to mix things up. If he’s competitive you could time him and he could try to set a “personal record” every time. I hope to include more ideas like this in future posts, Jasmine, so I appreciate the question!

  • Reply Kelly January 27, 2016 at 6:41 am

    LOVE this post so much! Thanks for writing it, Dawn, and thanks, Brandy, for hosting it. Looking forward to the series.

    • Reply Kelly January 27, 2016 at 10:00 am

      Oh, and I do have a request for the series — any tips for parents of older kids? My youngest are 13, 15, and 17. To complicate matters, we live in a rural county, so I don’t have many resources as far as neighborhood parks or nature trails, because the few things like that are a long drive away. And we live on a narrow highway with lots of traffic, so bicycling or walking around the neighborhood isn’t an option. On the plus side, we have a few acres of lawn, woods, and pasture, plus a deep ravine — so a decent amount of varied terrain, although livestock and their fencing have to be navigated. We also have a fairly long driveway: seven laps = one mile.

      • Reply Dawn January 27, 2016 at 10:27 am

        Thanks for the question, Kelly! I see how you are unable to go out for a leisurely stroll given your neighborhood, but it is a huge bonus to have so much land available for activity and exploration! I’ll keep this in mind for a future post, but until then I think the concepts of a training center or obstacle course work just as well for teens as they do for younger kids – if you can make it sound cool rather than corny to them, that is:). Your driveway sounds like a perfect place upon which to do some strength and conditioning drills, too, for something more formally implemented and I can certainly discuss that further as well. Getting some old semi truck tires and flipping them around the property, hanging rope ladders from trees, etc can still be fun ways for teens to get exercise without them realizing that they are doing just that. Badminton would be another great thing to incorporate as a means of fun activity (it addresses hand-eye coordination, strength, balance, agility and cardiovascular exercise) if the interest is there and you have the space for it. Truly, the opportunities are endless! I’ll brainstorm some more and see what I can write up in future.

        • Reply Kelly January 27, 2016 at 10:42 am

          Badminton! Thanks for reminding me! A few years ago hubby and I were going to set up a net, but an unexpected farm expense came up, and, well . . . you know how things like that go.

          Looking forward to your post. My imagination is sorely lacking in this area.

          • Dawn January 27, 2016 at 11:36 am

            Sadly, I sure do:).

            I’ll be happy to put my imagination to work for you in this area. I love it!!

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