In recent months, I’ve started sharing a new message with my students. It goes something like this:
“Boys and girls, you all know that I am your PE teacher right now. It’s my job to teach you how important it is to eat well and exercise. In the coming years, you will certainly have other PE teachers. But eventually, after you finish school and you become an adult, someone else is going to become your PE Teacher. And this person is going to be your PE teacher for the rest of your lives. Who do you think that person is?”
By the end of the statement, most of my older students (4th and 5th grade) realize what my point is. Eventually, you will all become PE teachers for yourselves. Whenever I share this message with my students, it’s amazing how focused they get. They seem to grasp the enormity of the responsibility. One day, they are going to be in charge of taking care of themselves.
As I explain the message further, I say that eventually, there will be no school-based PE teacher to set up fitness activities for them. It’s going to be up to them to choose to get involved in exercise. It’s also going to be up to them—not their parents—to choose healthy foods to eat. I also say that the simplest PE messages I give them are the most important: Try to get 60 minutes of physical activity each day; pick fitness activities that you enjoy; eat healthy foods, and avoid soft drinks.
I think the concept of personal responsibility for health and fitness is an important one for classroom teachers to share with their students. It makes an excellent starting point for a class discussion on ways that your students can be great PE teachers for themselves one day.
Several months ago, I spent some time at a friend’s house. His 4-year-old son was walking around the kitchen, enjoying some crackers for a snack. I won’t name the cracker, but I’d classify it as junk food. As the boy enjoyed his snack, he paused and made a very interesting comment: “The more I eat, the hungrier I get.”
Even at 4 years old, my friend’s son recognized one of the key features of the unhealthy junk-food items found in the dessert and snack aisles of our supermarkets. These foods—including those crackers—are extremely high in refined carbohydrates, which break down quickly into sugar after you eat them. At the same time, there is little useful nutrition in these foods. Eating these foods produces a “sugar rush” that makes you want even more. In other words, these foods not only taste great, they make you feel great too! But only for a minute. You need to keep eating to keep having that great feeling. And this 4-year-old boy, not even in kindergarten yet, was able to verbalize this situation beautifully.
About 5 years ago, a friend of mine named Carolyn retired from teaching. Carolyn was a classroom teacher for over 30 years, and we taught together for several years before she retired. Traditionally at my school, the final teaching day is followed by a check-out day during which teachers pack up their belongings and turn in their keys. On the cleanup day following Carolyn’s final day of teaching, she approached me with a box full of materials. “Here you go—this may be useful to you.” The box was full of PE resources that she had accumulated through the years, including the exercise cards in the photograph below. Carolyn told me that the box had been stored away, and she had forgotten about its contents.
I learned a valuable lesson from Carolyn that day. Teachers accumulate materials over the course of their teaching careers. You might be surprised by some of the valuable materials they have. Talk with your colleagues. There may be some hidden PE gems among their belongings!
Most of the activities in the PE by Design program work best on grass. But many schools have no grass field. Even when there is a field, it is often too wet to use. In these situations, the blacktop (or a concrete area) is the only available outdoor surface on which to hold a PE class.
A hard surface is perfectly acceptable for most PE activities. (One big exception: I avoid conducting most tag games on the blacktop.) However, I always remind students to stay alert and be more careful during any games played on the blacktop.
The PE by Design website offers many activities that students can perform on the blacktop. Here are my top five favorites. They all emphasize movement, so your students will get great exercise with these activities.
Many classroom teachers who are trying to build a PE program have no fitness background and are unfamiliar with basic fitness guidelines for children. If you’re just starting to teach PE, it helps to develop a list of reliable resources about physical fitness and health. And I’d put the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) at the top of that list.
The CDC is a federal agency under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It is considered the preeminent public health organization in the United States. The CDC functions as an outlet for health information endorsed by our federal government, and it’s a valuable source of information on fitness for children.
Several sections of the CDC website provide key fitness guidelines specifically for children. Physical Activity Basics is a good place to start. There you’ll find a subsection titled “How Much Physical Activity Do Children Need?” It covers three main categories of exercise for children—aerobic activity, muscle strengthening, and bone strengthening. There are specific recommendations for each category, including perhaps the most-important fitness recommendation of all—kids should receive at least 60 minutes of exercise per day. Use this section to learn what types of activities are appropriate for what ages, how long should children do different types of activities, and how often should they do them.
Another part of the CDC website, Healthy Schools, offers access to several resources on improving children’s health in our schools. In particular, I recommend the School Health Guidelines section. It provides strategies and guidelines for creating a health-focused environment on school campuses.
As you build your PE program, it is vital to keep the basic fitness guidelines in mind. The CDC web pages provide a quick reference on the basics of exercise for children, and specifically, expectations for how schools can approach addressing the health of their children.
I found a great article this morning in a small publication from Texas. (To view the article, click here) The article focuses on children and energy drinks. Unfortunately, these drinks, including Red Bull and Gatorade, are often marketed directly to children and teens with boasts that they replenish electrolytes and improve athletic performance. But many of these drinks include high levels of sugar, caffeine or both. As the author mentions, professional athletes benefit from electrolyte replacement drinks during a vigorous workout, but not children. Before exercise, children are much better off eating a healthy meal, allowing time for digestion, then drinking water as they exercise.
I once taught with a 4th grade teacher who had a remarkably simple, yet effective, approach to teaching physical education. I’ll call her Brenda.
Brenda led her students out to the yard often. When she arrived at the edge of the grass field, she simply said “Go!” over and over again. Her students immediately started jogging around the yard. They continued for 5 to 10 minutes. Brenda brought her kids out more than any other teacher in our school, probably three days a week.
I noticed something remarkable when I tested Brenda’s students for the mile run. Her students outperformed not just the other 4th grade classes in our school, but all of the 5th grade classes as well! I attribute the success of her students in the mile-run test to the extra running they did with Brenda.
Brenda’s approach to teaching PE was to stick with simplicity, and it paid off. It would have been ideal if she could have built on her simple jogging program, adding other activities for variety. Yet the success of her students in the mile-run test illustrates that even short jogging sessions, carried out consistently over time, can have a great impact on your students’ performance!
I noticed this article from The Aiken Standard today, titled “HEALTH AND FITNESS: Preventing summer weight gain in kids.” The message of the article is a good one: Parents should me mindful of their children’s activity level and diet over the summer. However, I think the emphasis on preventing summer weight game taps into a delicate issue. In my K-5 PE classes, I intentionally avoid references to body-weight when discussing nutrition. I do this because I think elementary age students are too young to manage their weight with the same degree of responsibility as an adult. Instead, I focus on a simpler, kid friendly message in my classes: I often remind my students that they should eat healthy food and get an hour of physical activity per day.
I think the message of emphasizing to parents healthy body weight in children is fine. However, it’s worthwhile to mention that the message should be presented to kids in a way that’s appropriate. Over the summer, kids may be less physically active away from school. It would be totally ok to remind children that they should move throughout the day for a total of at least 60 minutes, while eating a healthy diet with lots of fruits and vegetables.
We had a very special guest earlier this week at Rancho School. For years, I’ve been telling my students about a man named Dr. Joel Kirsch. Dr. Kirsch is the President of the American Sports Institute in Mill Valley, California. He is extremely passionate about fitness, and it’s his goal to open a K-12 school that emphasizes both fitness and academics. In 2010, to gather support for his new school, Dr. Kirsch, performed burpee exercises with a push-ups, one step at a time, for 30 miles, from Novato to the Golden Gate Bridge. Dr. Kirsch did the burpees for 6 hours each day, for a total of 6 weeks!
On Monday, Dr. Kirsch visited our school and shared his personal story with our 4th and 5th grade students. Dr. Kirsch emphasized the fact that he was inspired to perform his amazing feat by others, and that our students should seek to set a positive example for others as well. And, yes…..he did perform some burpees! It was an absolute treat to host Dr. Kirsch!
To learn more about Dr. Kirsch and his amazing athletic feat, visit The American Sports Institute website by clicking here.
PE is about to begin. You’re walking with your students out to the yard. How should you start your class?
Your first item of business is to prepare your students to listen to directions. It’s tempting to ask students to gather loosely around you, but that’s not the best approach. All your students need to focus on you and be able to hear you. That’s easiest when each one has an unobstructed view of your face. Find a clearly defined area where your students can stand side by side in a simple formation—a single line, for example.
Here are some great ways to position your students for the listening-intensive start of your PE session:
Find a long painted line on the blacktop. Tell your students to stand with both feet on the line.
Tell your students to stand directly on the edge of the blacktop. If you have a grass field adjacent to the blacktop, tell your students to stand with their heels on the grass and toes on the blacktop.
If your blacktop has painted basketball courts, have your students stand along the curved arch of the key (which is near the free throw line).
Once the students are in position, and you have their attention, you can begin your PE class.
Our book, “PE by Design: The Classroom Teachers Physical Education Program, Grades K-5” includes many more class management tips. To purchase the book, click here.