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    Home Education

    Physical Education in Your Back Yard

    February 24, 2016 by Dawn Duran

    Hopefully by now you are convinced that there is great value in giving physical education a more prominent spot in your [home]school and you’re ready to dive in. Today I’d like to give some practical suggestions for implementing Physical Education at home in order to create more frequent movement opportunities for your children to instill in them a lifelong love of activity. It’s a bonus if they are engaged in physical activities, such as sports, outside the home, but to optimally develop physically they need daily and varied movement experiences, and this post contains suggestions for accomplishing that.

    Gather some supplies and get your kids moving -- this is much easier than you think!

    First, let’s talk supplies.

    This is something that can be accomplished without breaking the bank. Many toys that inspire movement you may already have on hand, and others are relatively inexpensive. It’s not important that you have any and every thing on this list, of course. This is just a sample of tools that will promote physical activity in your children — often with very little involvement on your part. This is certainly not an all-inclusive list, either, so please leave a comment to let us know if you have an idea that isn’t included here.

    What’s Inside our PE Box?

    PE Supplies

    In our home, in addition to bikes, skateboards and scooters, the following is a list of our go-to tools in the activity department:

    When we had more space we also kept the following accessible in our back yards:

    • 6-8 foot length of 4×4 Wooden Fence post — this creates an instant balance beam
    • Old tires — excellent for rolling or for flipping from one end of the lawn to the other to encourage squatting for lower body strength and lifting and pushing for upper body strength in addition to loads of fun!
    • Wooden ladder for climbing and crawling — sometimes at an incline, sometimes flat, etc.

    Other wonderful additions if you have the time and/or space include:

    That’s great, Dawn. I have my tools collected. Now what?

    PE 2

    When you’re ready for your children to participate in physical education, make your bin of tools visible. We keep a milk crate filled with most of our tools just outside our door so that the boys can grab them anytime they want; however, it may be beneficial to bring out your toys only during specified PE time. This might keep the interest in the tools elevated and keep your children looking forward to their next session of PE. You may be able to provide your children with the bin of goodies and let them have fun. Other children may require more parental involvement and guidance to help them learn how to use the tools provided. Experiment to determine what works best in your home.

    Here are a few ideas to try utilizing the tools I’ve listed:

    :: Grab some foam pool noodles. Cut them in half and give one to each child. Blow up a balloon. The opportunities with these simple tools alone are endless and we have enjoyed them on many a day when we couldn’t get outdoors due to weather, although it would also be a fun game to play outdoors. You could create “goals” and play hockey, or use a piece of string to mimic a net and play badminton. Our favorite game, though, is to see how long we can keep the balloon afloat without ever touching the ground. Make it even more of a challenge and ask your child to use the noodle in their non-dominant hand, or while standing on one foot. But beware – if your children are anything like mine then they will inevitably turn their noodles into weapons, at which point it’s time to move on to something new.

    :: Set up an obstacle course. Better yet – have your child create the course and you agree to complete it after they’ve made it! Create hurdles that the child must bear crawl under or jump over, hop over sticks or lengths of string placed on the ground, toss a ball into a bucket while standing on only one foot, pull a sled or a wagon filled with toys/books/balls/rocks, etc. from one end of the course to the other without spilling any of the contents. Use your imagination and – and have your children use theirs! – using what you have on hand to create physical challenges that will be fun and rewarding to complete. If you feel challenged in the imagination department simply conduct a google search to come up with some fun ideas.

    :: Remember that box of chalk I suggested for the PE Box? Use it to create a hopscotch or FourSquare board. Spend the next twenty minutes developing coordination, speed, strength and balance while your children play these classic games of childhood. If they start to get bored then mix things up a little bit: have them throw with their non-dominant hand, jump sideways or backwards instead of forwards, stand on one leg while playing FourSquare, etc. Another fun idea is to have your children draw a meandering stream on the sidewalk – one that has some narrow areas to “cross the stream” and others that are quite wide. Their challenge is to jump across the “stream” without landing in it, which will develop their core, lower body strength and coordination in the process. Again, you can mix things up by asking them to hop across on one foot, or take a running leap vs a standing jump, or to jump sideways on both feet, backwards from both feet, etc. The opportunities for adapting these fun games are endless and without a doubt classify as PE or “conditioning” in your homeschool records.

    :: Tug of war! This is where that thicker rope comes in handy. Make it even more of a challenge between only two children by having each of them stand on top of a milk crate as they pull, or have them play while walking on the balance beam you created in your yard from a 2×4 placed across two milk crates or 5-gallon buckets or that 4 x 4 wooden fence post you placed on the ground. Whoever hits the ground first loses the war.

    :: Create goals in your backyard and play soccer. Hang a bucket to mimic a basketball net and shoot hoops. Make bases and play kickball.

    More ideas Outside the Box — the PE Box, that is!

    :: Remember playing Twister as a child? It’s a hilariously fun game that is excellent in terms of developing strength and flexibility! If you don’t already have it on hand then gift it to one of your children for their next birthday and just try to play it without laughing. I’ve even seen the suggestion to make an outdoor version of the game by creating a Twister board on your lawn using cans of water-based marking paint, which won’t kill the grass.

    :: Host a Game Day for physical education once a week. While large families may have enough children to participate in the games solo, families with two or fewer children would benefit from joining a larger group for this purpose. Are there other homeschool families in your community that you want to connect with? Invite them for a time of outdoor games in your back yard or at a local park. Games such as Simon Says; Duck, Duck Goose; Red Light, Green Light; What Time is it, Mr Fox? or Freeze Tag require minimal instruction and supervision. Wheelbarrow races are an excellent way to develop upper body strength and induce loads of laughter. Other fun games to try include:

    • Capture the Flag
    • Mother, May I (variation of Red Light, Green Light)
    • Blind Man’s Bluff
    • Spud
    • Bulldog or Sharks and Minnows
    PE 3

    :: Provide your children with a Movement Jar much like some mothers implementing a Charlotte Mason philosophy of education implement a Narration Jar. Type up several movements into a word document and print on paper (or card stock). Cut out the movements and place in a jar or container. Have your child reach in and draw a card. They now have to perform the activity displayed on the card for 30-60 seconds. Repeat for as many activities as you’d like. For a more independent activity give your child a timer and tell him (or her) to draw 10 cards and perform each movement listed for one minute. Just make sure that they are performing the activities safely before letting them loose to do so, of course. An even better approach to encourage movement happening throughout your homeschool day would be to draw a card every time you transition from one subject to the next to stimulate breaking up the typically sedentary work of your school day into a more active one. I’ve prepared a document of some movements to include in your Movement Jar to get you started. Print off a few copies and stock your Movement Jar today!

    I hope you have found some ideas in this post to begin incorporating physical education more consistently in your homeschool this week. Please be sure to leave additional ideas for PE at Home in the comments as well as questions you’d like me to address in future posts in this series.

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  • Reply Cindy August 17, 2016 at 8:55 pm

    This is fantastic! Love the idea of a movement jar. We have three very active boys with sensory system challenges and our home often turns into an OT gym! I love the idea of giving them specifics to do and I run out of ideas easily. This is just what we need.
    I do have a question about time – do you think having PE first thing in the morning is beneficial? Or maybe as a replacement for our “witching hour” around 3 p.m.? I would appreciate your thoughts on how to decide what part of the day to plug PE in. Thank you for the great post. You are a wonderful addition to an already fabulous blog 🙂

    • Reply Dawn Duran August 18, 2016 at 2:24 am

      Thank you so much for your kind words, Cindy!
      The time at which to perform PE completely depends on your family dynamics. Our family takes a morning walk (actually, I walk while the boys ride bikes, scooter or run) a few times a week and I do believe that helps with focus on school work as it expends some energy. Initially I tried the “Movement Jar” ideas with my son as a pre-school activity in the mornings when we first started over 2 years ago and it backfired because it completely revved him up – the results were the exact opposite of what I had anticipated and desired.
      I love the idea of incorporating PE during the “witching hour” and I absolutely think this would be a wonderful way to divert the otherwise (often) destructive energy it brings.
      I encourage you to experiment with your boys and see what result it achieves. My thought is that you have three active boys they would benefit from some form of physical activity in BOTH time thoughts that you proposed. Please do come back and let us know what you figure out, though. I think it’s really helpful for parents to hear what works for other families in order to generate ideas for ways to adapt the concept for their own homes.

  • Reply Brian April 2, 2016 at 6:46 pm

    Hi Dawn,

    I have an idea or two to add here:

  • Reply Gymnastic Education Practices – T.O.R.L. April 2, 2016 at 6:16 pm

    […] Duran’s post “Physical Education in Your Back Yard” contains a myriad of helpful examples of how families can include physicality in the education of […]

  • Reply Natasha Jones March 23, 2016 at 8:18 pm

    Hi! Thank you for the post. I teach PE but I often have moms and dads wondering what they could do at home to allow their children to move, move, move. I will make sure to share you blog so they have more ideas to pull from. If you every need some more ideas feel free to check out my blog. Keep on Rock’n!

  • Reply Kristyn March 1, 2016 at 8:19 pm

    Thanks for this, Dawn! It is timely, as my husband was reminding me (again) how I need to include PE into our day. I had actually just started a week before this post was published since our oldest son (9) is beginning baseball season. I rotate days of endurance training and “time trials” as I call them (more like a combination of stations geared towards speed and accuracy of techniques utilizing hand-eye coordination with the ball, catching, batting, throwing and running). I make them up on the fly pretty much and have him do them three times (per time trial day) to try beating his previous time. The endurance day is just running as many laps around our yard as he can for 10 minutes. The next endurance day he tries to beat his previous time. I plan to soon move him to “lap times” and have him work up to more laps. Anyway, this has been great and lots of fun for him as he builds skills.

    • Reply Dawn March 2, 2016 at 12:53 am

      That sounds wonderful, Kristyn! I love the “time trial” idea in particular, and I have another idea for you to mix things up on your endurance days. A foundation of endurance is important for any sport, but the more specific you can make it the more effective it will be. Rather than merely running around the yard you can give him specific tasks for each section of the yard he is on. For example, have him “just run” when he is at the longest section of the lawn (ie running from the house to the back fence, or from the fence on one side to the neighboring fence on the other) but instruct him to form a functional movement pattern on the shorter sections of your lap. For example, butt kicks, high knees, skipping, side shuffle, sideways cross-over, etc. This can work on your goal of endurance while also addressing sport-specific movement patterns that will benefit him on the field. I hope he has a blast with baseball this season!

  • Reply Amber Vanderpol February 26, 2016 at 3:29 pm

    This is such a wonderful and fantastic post, Dawn, thank you!! My kids are really going to appreciate you taking the time to write this. I tend to get stuck in a rut very quickly when it comes to movement breaks because I just don’t have that many options in my head. I generally rotate through the 7 min workout on my phone, follow the leader, running races up the driveway, and… that might be it. (ok, I’m embarrassed now!)

    • Reply Dawn February 26, 2016 at 3:48 pm

      I’m glad that I could add some more movement ideas to your repertoire, Amber. Don’t be embarrassed, though – it sounds like you’ve been doing a great job already!

  • Reply Catie February 25, 2016 at 5:48 pm

    Love this! I’m definitely going to make a Movement Jar. 🙂

    • Reply Dawn February 26, 2016 at 1:52 am

      Please come back and tell us how it works out in your home, Catie!

  • Reply Ma F February 25, 2016 at 5:07 pm

    Dawn have you been hanging out in our yard?
    I did not see stumps on your list…big 2 and 3 foot wide stumps are great fun. Big tubs or totes for letting them move rocks and wood and things about…
    Slack lines? Rope ladders? We had to make a rule my teen could not climb the street light post ha! She wants to plant some of those timber bamboo for climbing instead…think we could get the neighbors to agree? 😉 We have a fit deck for rainy days but I like the movement jar idea!

    • Reply Dawn February 26, 2016 at 1:55 am

      We have a TON of bamboo growing in neighborhoods here, Ma F, to my great surprise. It’s really cool stuff!

      Yes! Rope ladders! Thank you for the reminder! Slack lines are magnificent, too – I tried to replicate it in part with the rope set-up in our Jedi Training Center featured in my last post.

      I’ve heard wonderful things about the Fit Deck and the concept behind the Movement Jar is very similar.

  • Reply Dawn February 25, 2016 at 2:55 am

    I took my own advice and due to a rainy week here we bought the game of Twister. It has been an enormous hit in our home and the boys beg to play it practically hourly! They may like it even more when it is their turn to “spin” and Mama participates. It’s not quite as easy for me as it was when I was 8 years old, I can assure you, but it’s a wonderful workout and a ton of fun!

  • Reply Jen Snow February 24, 2016 at 5:53 pm

    This is FAN-TAS-TIC. Thank you, friend.

    • Reply Dawn February 25, 2016 at 2:51 am

      My pleasure, Jen!

  • Reply Jessica February 24, 2016 at 5:38 pm

    GREAT Dawn! This is just what I was looking for. Thanks so much!

    • Reply Dawn February 25, 2016 at 2:52 am

      I’m glad that it was helpful, Jessica. Have fun! And – if you remember – please come back to report to us how it’s going in your home.

  • Reply Brandy Vencel February 24, 2016 at 2:52 pm

    Whoa! I have to apologize to you all…AND to Dawn. The lack of the printable guide is completely my fault. Somehow, I messed that up. I’m working on it now, and I’ll comment again when it’s fixed. So sorry!!

    • Reply Brandy Vencel February 24, 2016 at 3:16 pm

      Annnnnd thankfully it was just a broken link and not a bigger issue. Dawn’s sentence near the end of the post is now hyperlinked to the printable doc, and when you click it, you ought to be able to download it. Thank you for your patience!

      • Reply Dawn February 24, 2016 at 3:41 pm

        I’m glad it was an easy fix, Brandy. No worries!

        • Reply Ola February 24, 2016 at 7:28 pm

          excellent! so planning on implementing it in our home, AS WELL as our CM co-op! such quick & simple ideas plus just enough structure and fun built-in to make it doable & easy to implement with not much preplanning or forethought. Just open up a timer app on my iPad and GO — hey, i can actually DO it! 🙂 Thanks again

          • Dawn February 25, 2016 at 2:53 am

            I’m so glad to hear that, Ola. Yes – you CAN do this! I look forward to hearing about the benefits this makes evident in your home and co-op as you implement some of these ideas – which may lead to even more along the way!

  • Reply Ola February 24, 2016 at 1:10 pm

    excellent post with great reminders! thank you. How can I access your doc with movements for the Movement Jar?

  • Reply Tara February 24, 2016 at 12:28 pm

    The ladder that you linked to is a small (14″) ladder for a bird cage.

    • Reply Dawn February 24, 2016 at 12:56 pm

      Woops! I’ll let Brandy know, Tara. Thanks for pointing that out.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel February 24, 2016 at 3:16 pm

      Brandy apparently can’t read. Oops.

      • Reply Dawn February 24, 2016 at 3:42 pm

        Tee hee. Perhaps you should teach yourself to read with BOB books? 🙂

  • Reply jodie February 24, 2016 at 11:23 am

    Where is the printable for the movement jar? Am I missing it somewhere?

  • Reply Melissa February 24, 2016 at 11:19 am

    Good stuff Dawn! My sister’s children are spread by a 12-year age gap (22 and 10 years old). What P.E. activities do you recommend to single child families without ‘built in’ playmates? This seems to be a constant complaint (for lack of better term) in their household 🙂


    • Reply Dawn February 24, 2016 at 1:00 pm

      Thanks, Melissa!
      The single child scenario definitely presents its challenges, but it’s not impossible to accomplish PE in such instances. Many of the recommendations in this post can be adapted to accommodate a single-child home – and give Mom more opportunities for movement by recruiting her as someone to participate right along with the child! I’ll give this some more thought, though, and perhaps incorporate it into a future post. Thanks for the idea!

      • Reply Tara February 24, 2016 at 2:33 pm

        I also have one child (age 3, almost 4) and was thinking the same thing – especially when it comes to games like “tug of war”! I agree that a number of the ideas you listed can be used for solo play – like the bucket steppers, pogo stick, etc. My son already enjoys using his shovel in the back yard. I don’t naturally come up with creative ideas for movement, so your ideas will be good starting points for me. Using a post as a balance beam… simple, easy, and something a single child can do. I just wouldn’t have thought of it if you hadn’t suggested it! I’ll look forward to any other thoughts you share in an upcoming post about single-child PE. 🙂

        • Reply Dawn February 24, 2016 at 3:46 pm

          I’m so glad that this was helpful, Tara. As I was communicating with Brandy about this post before it was finished I told her that I thought this post was falling flat as I wrote it, and was hopeful that I only felt that way because these ideas DO come naturally to me. I love to help others become excited about all things related to movement and activity – and hope to be able to do that even more in future here at Afterthoughts.

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