Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
12 Oct

How I Would Change Gym Class

tugofwarGym class was not a great time for me.

To understand exactly how painful grade school PE was back in my day, you must experience “Go, You Chicken Fat, Go.” Back in early 1960s, PE was all about preparing for and passing the Presidential Fitness Test, which was JFK’s youth fitness standards. “Go, You Chicken Fat, Go” was a ridiculous song written expressly for the Presidential challenge and sung by a guy named Robert Preston. Every single day during PE class, we did calisthenics as it blasted over the PA system on repeat. We’d do pushups, jumping jacks, squat thrusts, chinups, all while listening to this masterpiece – I think I’m finally realizing why I hated strength training and gravitated toward long distance endurance events for the bulk of my youth! We occasionally got to play dodgeball, and those were good days. Head shots were allowed and even encouraged. No PC stuff anywhere.

My first year of high school gym was rough, too. You see, I placed out of a few of my classes, so they bumped me up to an all-senior PE class as a freshman. I actually don’t remember all that much about the PE curriculum. It might have been great, but I wouldn’t have known because I was too busy avoiding purple nurples and dodging rat tails in the locker room. Oh, and back then we had to shower during gym, so wet towels were exclusively used for rat tail production. Let’s just say that you really don’t know pain until you’ve felt a sopping wet rat tail inscribe itself across your lower ribcage. Fun stuff. Once spring track season rolled around, though, I was the top point man on the team, usually winning the mile and two mile, and placing in the pole vault. That got me some cred and made the rest of high school bearable.

But gym was never great for me.

So today, I’m going to explain what I’d change about gym class if I was given the chance to teach or administer it. I suppose the first thing I’d change about physical eduction in schools is to make sure it still exists! Standardized testing, and all the madness that surrounds and enables it, along with tight budgets, have forced schools to cut the “non-essentials,” including gym, music, and art. I’ve definitely got nothing against math, social studies, science, and English, but being active is just as essential as those subjects. Heck, even recess is getting cut in some places. That’s just criminal.

No, I’m not considering a new career path, and no, this isn’t a policy discussion. I’m not proposing comprehensive school reform (although that’s probably what it’d take to work). I’m just having fun. In the process, hopefully I outline some tangible activities you parents find helpful enough to try. The “revolution,” if there’s going to be one, must start at the local level. You start legislating education from afar and you end up with stuff like the “Go, You Chicken Fat, Go” song playing on repeat over an aging PA system and scaring an entire generation away from pullups. You can’t rely on that. You have to be the change you seek, whether that’s playing tag with your kids on weekends, banding together with other concerned parents for “PE meetups” outside of school, or putting pressure on your kids’ schools to make time for gym and recess. Maybe you could even be a PE teacher and start the change from the inside (though I don’t know how much freedom PE teachers get to construct their own programs).

If I was put in charge of leading gym class, I’d only employ competent coaches with athletic or training backgrounds. No more math teachers filling in because there’s no money to hire a dedicated coach. They’d have to be certified through something like NCSA, and there would be a lengthy interview process. All teachers would have to be physically fit themselves, able to perform and teach (including scaling up or down for all fitness levels) basic strength and conditioning movements, and be willing to go on record against Chronic Cardio (Ok, that last one’s a joke. Kinda.).

For grade school kids, I’d:

Abolish chairs. You ever see a kid squat? They do it effortlessly. Toes pointed forward, nice neutral spine, butt to calves, and they can sit there forever. They don’t need chairs at school. Desks are tall enough and the ground is perfect for sprawling out and getting work done. Yeah, this isn’t a gym class thing, but so what? It’s my post.

Instate a mix of free play and structured exercise, including:

MovNat. This is the prime time to teach kids to move naturally through the environment. Balance, climbing, crawling, jumping, all of it. Their joint mobility is unencumbered by years of sitting and sedentary living (because, well, they’ve only been alive for half a decade), so MovNat will come naturally (get it?). Erwan, you down for a career change?

Strength training once a week. A lot of bodyweight basics – pullups, pushups, squats, planks, overhead presses – plus some light weighted movements, like learning how to hip hinge to pick stuff up off the ground (deadlifts, basically, not for weight, but for the movement pattern). Most kids do this naturally, but that goes away pretty quick. This basic weekly refresher course would keep it. And no, strength training does not stunt growth.

Sprints once a week. Six or seven all-out sprints with a couple minutes of rest in between. Kids love to run and this is a great outlet for it.

Mile runs every week. If you can run a mile well, you’re in pretty good shape.

Field trips to the wilderness for long hikes. Maybe two or three times a month get kids outside for daylong hikes. Bring along the science teachers and make it educational! This would also be a great opportunity to teach MovNat fundamentals.

A fully outfitted jungle gym with the regular stuff – swings, ladders, multiple levels, slides – and not-so-regular stuff – rings, dip bars, horizontal bars, climbing ropes. Kids would learn how to climb, swing, and play on and around the equipment, maybe even with a gymnastics day every couple weeks, but there would also be free days. I’m thinking epic matches of hot lava monsters, personally.

Lots of free time, with the equipment and space (and some nudging if necessary) to do the following:

Dodgeball. It develops catching, dodging, throwing, spatial awareness, hand-eye coordination, agility, pain tolerance, with just enough healthy competition to teach you how to win and lose.

Tag. This will usually sprout up organically, but just in case it doesn’t, I’ll be “it” first.

Capture the flag. Teamwork, strategizing, sprints. The perfect fusion of brains and brawn. And, it’s super fun.

For high schoolers, I’d do much the same, with a few changes:

Push strength training to twice a week. Bodyweight exercises, employing all the essential movements, with the option to progress to weighted exercises if the student prefers. Just three or four compound exercises each session, two or three sets per. I doubt the school could stock enough barbells and weights for forty kids at once, so we’d have to use a lot of cheaper, more versatile equipment – sandbags, kettlbebells, medicine balls, slosh tubes. Imagine if everyone knew how to squat, deadlift, and press with perfect form that was ingrained at a young age?

Mobility work, daily, as a five to ten minute warmup. Teens are not quite as limber as kids, but far more mobile than most adults, so we can get ‘em before they stiffen up. I’d draw from MobilityWOD‘s trove of movements.

More MovNat.

Wrestling. I remember doing a bit of this in grade school PE. I wasn’t very good (too small and there were no weight classes), but it was fun. I could definitely see wrestling as a great way to teach kids practical self-defense. And wrestling makes for an interesting, visceral anatomy lesson.

Lots of play. Of course, I’d promote Ultimate as the, well, ultimate fun game for teens. Lots of running, jumping, changing directions, throwing, catching, predicting flight paths, orchestrating plays and generally having a blast. A kid who can learn the basic skills of Ultimate can probably play any sport with competency later in life. I’ll admit that I’m having a hard time imagining cynical teens playing without a shred of irony, but maybe if those same teens came up in my mythical grade school PE curriculum, they’d be different. Who knows.

It’s not about burning calories. I’m not overly concerned with seven year olds failing to engage in high intensity interval training or deadlifting their own bodyweight. Kids simply need to move. At their age, they need to jump, leap, and flail their arms as often as possible. They need to twist out of the way of an incoming rubber ball or classmate’s outstretched hand. Bruises, grass stains, and scraped knees need to be part of the normal curriculum, and I want to see some of the more arcane versions of tag unearthed and field researched by our youngest scholars. It is during childhood that the innate human need to move must be encouraged, rather than stifled, because it will set the tone for the rest of that child’s life. Look, kids pop out of the womb wanting to move and touch and grab and experience. You know how babies are always looking wide-eyed and amazed at everything? That’s because they are. And once they figure out how to clamber onto their two feet, they’re off climbing, running, waddling, and yes, falling to explore this interesting new world. We gotta keep that going!

I think my “program” would work (if competent teacher/coaches were widely available and lawsuits were rare) and it would help get kids off on the right track toward a lifelong appreciation of movement. At the very least, it’d be better than whatever we have now.

What do you think? Readers, parents, teens? Is my vision for PE pure fantasy without any real chance? Are things really as dire as I’ve been led to believe? If you could change something about gym class, what would it be? Let me know in the comment section.

As you may know, next Tuesday – just six days away – marks the official release of my new book, The Primal Blueprint 21-Day Total Body Transformation. It’s designed to walk you through, step-by-step, the first three weeks of going Primal, getting healthy, and taking control of the rest of your life. Since three weeks is a relatively short period of time, I worked hard for the better part of two years to iron out the details and make sure that it actually works. Well, it does, and I’m confident that this could be the bridge to break through to the mainstream. If you couldn’t tell already, I’m pretty excited. I’ll be releasing more details next week, but I’m gonna need your help. Are you with me?

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. Thanks for the great post Mark! We over here @ MovNat are working our butts off to help the movement (no pun intended). Big plans. Stay tuned.

    Jamie
    Exercise Scientist
    MovNat

    Jamie wrote on October 12th, 2011
  2. My high school’s idea of PE was the teacher taking the boys outside to play football and leaving the girls inside, unsupervised, with a volleyball and net. Would it surprise anyone to learn that unsupervised 14-15 year old girls didn’t play much volleyball?

    The despised “dyke” history teacher/girls’ basketball coach who taught my last ever PE class took us outside to play golf for a couple weeks in spring. This was the only time in 10 years of mandated PE that I ever enjoyed it.

    I don’t know where I was going with this. Only that I was well into my 20s before I discovered that physical activity could be fun and not an exercise in humiliation. Speaking of, I’m afraid I can’t agree with “more dodgeball.” In theory I guess it’s not horrible, but in practice it’s giving bullies weapons and license to hurl them at weaker children.

    Miss Brooklyn wrote on October 12th, 2011
  3. I was in PE in the early 60′s, and you are very accurate in your description. It was torture for a chubby, short girl who was rather uncoordinated. The Presidential Physical Fitness testing was brutal humiliation year after year when the only thing I passed was the softball throw.

    What I would like to see is education that encompasses trying different activities to find a match for all students. I was the baby thrown out with the bathwater, so to speak, and spent the next 40+ years thinking I could not do anything athletic because I couldn’t beat a girl ten inches taller than I was at the 50-yard dash. Had I been offered something like yoga, for example, my life might have been quite different. Instead, I spent years trying to master something called “a backward roll” that I could never do.

    I truly believe that the system in place then, and, from what I gather, is still basically unchanged, relegates a huge portion of the population to the status of “non-movers”. We suffer so greatly being thrust into activities we cannot perform, that we shut down and never look for something we can do. I excelled at “brain” activities, so that is what I concentrated on, and kept myself as far removed from PE and all it symbolized for many years.

    4ABetterMe wrote on October 12th, 2011
  4. I remember Chicken Fat – and String Bean! Yes, I had long legs and skinny! I really hated that big thick rope that we had to climb coming out of the gym ceiling! I didn’t make it very far and what was the purpose of climbing the rope anyway?! In case I wanted to have a career as a burglar? Thanks for the memories!

    Joan wrote on October 12th, 2011
  5. I hated dodgeball. It always ends up “every body throw balls as hard as you can at the geeky kid.” I was ALWAYS the geeky kid. If I could I would make a rule stating no child would ever be forced to play dodgeball against their will ever again.

    Coyote Vick wrote on October 12th, 2011
  6. Great recommendations! Admittedly, gym class was always one of my favourites (aside from visual art) because it gave me an excuse to run around and have fun. What an easy credit. lol

    Venne wrote on October 12th, 2011
  7. You almost made me cry with this post. As a former fat girl who managed to fail one semester in PE and sucked at long distance running and volleyball just because I lost my ability to move naturally (1 to 2 hours of PE per week were my only activity), I think a program like the one you described would help prevent at least half of adults health issues (both physical and psychological).

    Gaby wrote on October 12th, 2011
  8. I failed the President’s physical fitness test repeatedly. Yet now, I’m much more fit than most women my age (57). In a way, I think it was the humiliation of repeatedly failing that test that motivated me to become a long distance runner, the only event in the test that I could do reasonably well.

    I would add some yoga to your curriculum.

    shannon wrote on October 12th, 2011
  9. God I hated gym growing up…. Though I really like excercise now and I took up tennis as an adult @ 42(not real good but I love it)
    Anyway, as a kid PE was so stressful and I was picked last for teams because was terrible and very shy.
    But I have to agree with you one the things I really liked was dodge ball. We played it in a circle and the people in the middle were the targets. It was fun.
    If I could change PE I would make it fun and not so stressful and threatening because I would want the children to think of physical fitness as something FUN they want to do for life not something to try to get out of like I did.
    Let the kids have much more choice of activities not ‘everyone has to play volleyball today’ give them a choice between activities and encourage trying new ones on different weeks. I would also add jumping rope and hop scotch as some good activities for PE

    Gayle wrote on October 12th, 2011
    • Oh, my high school occasionally had open-gym days. I LOVED those! I’d go practice shooting hoops with a few friends, maybe hop in on a volleyball game, or practice some gymnastics. When we were allowed to lift weights, I would do that, too. But you better believe I wasn’t going to be caught dead playing anything with the jocks. I didn’t need that embarrassment.

      Deanna wrote on October 12th, 2011
  10. Somewhere in all my stuff, I have a “Chicken Fat” record… special-ordered it from a teacher’s store about 20 years ago! I bought it so that I could share it with my kids – horrible mother that I am, I would try to make them exercise to it during our early homeschooling years! “Push-ups, every morning, ten times, not just now and then…” In spite of my lame efforts, all of my kids know how to exercise, and a couple of them are quite fit.
    Loved the post – awesome PE ideas!

    Sarah wrote on October 12th, 2011
  11. Make them take showers again, so they don’t stink like AXE all day and blast everyone in the class room!

    Mike wrote on October 12th, 2011
  12. Teacher here …
    1. Mark’s PE sounds awesome! However, they have PE once/wk – pathetic & they can’t do any activities where the kids could get injured bc the parents will sue – sad :(
    2. School breakfast & lunches are AWFUL! The amount of chemicals, additives, preservatives, etc are crazy!
    3. The amount of strictly academic is only going to get worse with the National Exam coming in 2014 & teachers jobs on the line based on student performance.
    4. And the “best” (drives me insane) is after we feed these kids awful food, don’t allow them to move, & jam their brains full … our school does this all in classrooms with NO WINDOWS! So they are stuck in artificial lighting, not able to get outside into fresh air, or even see the outside for 7hours a day!!! And we wonder why kids get sick so much???

    Bree wrote on October 12th, 2011
  13. Dodgeball?!?! Have you lost your mind?!?!
    That game is horrible. The kids who potentially would be the ones who would most benefit from this game, are the first ones out because they are the easiest target. Then they sit on the sides with bruised ego’s. This is the exact opposite of what needs to happen to get those less active, less coordinated kids into a better situation. Sorry, but you’ve totally botched it on that one.

    Mykle wrote on October 12th, 2011
  14. I agree with this on so many levels, and yet when I read about all the sports, I flash back to my elementary school years being forced to play wiffle ball, soccer, dodgeball, and a whole bunch of other “fun” activities that resulted in popularity contests when picking teams and complete embarrassment because I was the person who couldn’t kick a ball, connect with a bat, or otherwise basically do anything right. I was a beast playing tag, though, and I was the fastest girl who could run a mile. I liked that kind of stuff, I liked learning about strength training in high school, but I really could have passed on the embarrassment of being one of the kids who would much rather be drawing or painting or tinkering on the piano. I was never fat, either. If I could separate these ideas from the emotional response I get remembering how team sports made me feel like a complete outcast, I’d think this was great! But heaven forbid you be the one who can’t kick the ball in kickball.

    Deanna wrote on October 12th, 2011
  15. Some guy named Robert Preston? As stupid as Chicken Fat was, didn’t you get a thrill from having a major Broadway and film star inciting you to exercise? His voice kept me going when I’d be lagging behind everyone else. Kept hoping he’d break into “oh, we got trouble, right here in River City…”

    Ginny wrote on October 12th, 2011
  16. Thanks for reviving old memories of ’60s era P.E. class. I remember our skinny, flat-chested teacher leading us 13 year-old girls in pressing our palms together while chanting “We must, we must, we must improve our bust”! Just looking at her was a dead give-away that it was a waste of time.

    Mo wrote on October 12th, 2011
    • Wow…

      Lars T wrote on October 12th, 2011
    • This should be the quote of the week.

      oxide wrote on October 13th, 2011
    • I remember it as “we must increase our bust” LOL!

      HillsideGina wrote on October 13th, 2011
  17. A lof of what Mark is proposing is in my daughter’s school. It’s really quite interesting. PE is every day and probably 1/2 the time it’s outside. Wednesdays are called “Work out Wednesdays” and they do situps, pullups, burpees within some sort of game. In the winter they go sledding, yep, organized sledding, sanctioned in school. The PE teacher sleds and often the classroom teacher will go down the hill a time or two.

    Elaine S wrote on October 12th, 2011
  18. Need more P.E. Teacher positions in the schools. A friend won a P.E. job recently – she was one of over 500 applicants for this position!

    Jane Horning wrote on October 12th, 2011
  19. There is an element of fantasy to your post here, because:

    1. You forget the fact that our public school system has become a training camp for what our culture expects of a dumb, fat, slave class. There are 3 lessons to be learned from elementary and middle school and beyond: obedience/passivity, conformity to mediocrity, and how to eat shit as you participate in a dry run of your miserable debt-laden serf adult existence. Oh, the delight in dreaming of a better reality!

    2. How can one prepare oneself for a life of producing nothing and feeling important without a chair? It is the perch of both civility and baseless narcissism alike.

    3. A true teacher is someone who has lived, pursued his/her passions with vigor and learned many things of which others might like to have knowledge in their quest for glory. Is this not why people have interest in you and your website? Today’s certified school “teachers” are just hacks like everyone else: they went to school for a piece of paper that attests to their ability to conform passively to the system; they have have little experience in triumph, would not be tolerated if they had strong opinions or insight, and offer our children little more that a means for accepting their own servitude and complacency… all while eating hot dogs and hogies.

    If your idea were to fit within the established framework, Mark, and allow the schools to gain an advantage in begging for federal funds… they would go over well. If not, they would be dismissed as silliness, regardless of how sensible they are. ;)

    Zim wrote on October 12th, 2011
  20. Great suggestions Mark. But, as a gym teacher, I also have to follow the curriculum. Granted, the curiculum allows for ‘some’ freedom of choice with regards to planning, there are other variables (e.g. safety, accountability, resources…) that keep the gym program the way it is. Nice suggestions though. I think I’ll have my students try some more ‘primal’ movements (especially the little ones).

    Stuart wrote on October 12th, 2011
  21. Intriguing post. I know for a fact that it was because I lifted weights in high school that I was able to develop the athletic build I’ve always had. I’ve been lifting on and off ever since and feel better and stronger when I do. It was also during that time that I realized how boring long distance running is (IMO).

    TokyoJarrett wrote on October 12th, 2011
  22. i’m wishing the bureaucracy even allowed me to teach more than 45 minutes of PE to my elementary students PER WEEK :(

    DThalman wrote on October 12th, 2011
  23. I have to say that I’d have loved to have gotten rid of the competition and the team sports. I was so anxious about it all, and I was always chosen last. It was horrible for my self esteem, and I would have preferred taking a dance class by myself or with my friends. PE was so bad that when I was an exchange student overseas and had taken a year of PE there, I used the excuse at my catholic high school here in the US that I fulfilled my PE requirement and needed to take that time to do Religion class. Boy was I relieved!

    Julie wrote on October 12th, 2011
  24. One of the best posts ever!
    I’m a high school teacher (not PE) and get alarmed at how PE never gets taken seriously by the school administration. Today it was “lets have the gym classes sit in the cafeteria so we can use the gym for PSAT testing.”
    I’ve also been coaching cross-country/track for 12 years. I think our pay comes out to somewhere around minimum wage. I like to think I am very knowledgeable at the sport, but the powers that be see us more as babysitters. Who cares what we ran today, but they care that we are supervising the TEENAGERs as they wait for the buses. Ok, hot topic, let me stop my rant now! :)

    emily wrote on October 12th, 2011
  25. My elementary and middle school PE was a lot of running laps with a little bit of basketball occasionally (those were the good days). But in junior high and high school PE was a joke. The rule was “just move”, but even that wasn’t enforced. So really the rule was don’t get caught smoking or making out.

    Aurelia wrote on October 12th, 2011
  26. Excellent post. WheI was at primary school in the early 1970′s there was a lot of sitting lolling on floors and heaps of outside activity. I am shcoked how many fat kids are prevalent in Australia now. These ideas are a must.

    Erin Scully wrote on October 12th, 2011
  27. “I’ll admit that I’m having a hard time imagining cynical teens playing without a shred of irony”

    As a student, I’m pleased to inform you that my gym class actually does play without a shred of irony. Sure, once in a while they scoff at some of the sillier games that the teachers have us play, but right now my class is midway through our-wait for it-Ultimate (Frisbee) unit. Once we really get started, everyone sprints, throws, catches, cheers, laughs, and gets upset when the game is cut short at the end of class.

    In other words, I think that games like ultimate are the the right way to go.

    Austin wrote on October 12th, 2011
  28. “CrossFit Sawmill,” the only Crossfit affiliate within a public high school (to my knowledge), does much of what you have described in your spot-on post. This is the curriculum for all of our high school students, and they are getting measurably and dramatically fitter. PE teachers, check out the “teacher resources” tab on our website (crossfitsawmill.com); we have developed a ton of useful tools which we are happy to share.

    Peter wrote on October 12th, 2011
  29. This makes me so happy. I am planning to homeschool my kids and now I have a place to start. They’re young, but I’ fully intend to primalize them starting 31 days ago!

    Heidi wrote on October 12th, 2011
  30. Dodgeball and steal the bacon! But too often PE was a mix of that stupid-ass presidential test that I swear was only invented to humiliate fat kids. Which I was at the time.

    Flag football was fun. So was self-defense but our principal commanded the PE teacher not to do it the following year. I went to an all-girls school and we LOVED the self-defense classes because we got to brawl with each other.

    Mimi (Gingersnaps) wrote on October 12th, 2011
  31. First of all, amazing plan and something like this would be amazing for kids. Secondly, I think it’s important to understand that the sprints, mile run, and strength training are also MovNat. What I mean to say is, why do MovNat and then strength when MovNat is already have lifting, throwing, and carrying? Doesn’t matter if its a rock, stone, kettlebell, or each other. Lifting stuff is lifting stuff. Pull ups are awesome but they can also climb stuff. Squats, deads, and presses are also MovNat. Running a mile is also technically MovNat. It doesn’t have to be bodyweight or in a forest to be MovNat. Just my opinion.

    Vlad wrote on October 12th, 2011
  32. My 12 yr old son was in tears when he only got 3 for the beep test at school (he came down with the flu the next day and has asthma). I had to point out to him that being able to surf for 3 hours, swim 1km easily and goalkeep against players two years older than him were all different ways of being fit. My friend who teaches german at an all girl school is now teaching PE due to a shortage of teachers. No wonder our kids are obese and inactive!!

    ms jane wrote on October 12th, 2011
  33. This post does bring back memories of the 60′s….
    I don’t remember “steal the bacon” but i do remember my first encounter with cardio with a game we called “hide the sausage” which I spent much time practicing with Mandy S. :()
    All kidding aside, I still have my “Presidential Patch” (embroidered) for physical fitness somewhere in my archaic collection….Thanx for being a pack-rat mom…….

    gator wrote on October 12th, 2011
  34. Hmmm. I think there needs to be lots of stuff for kids who hate “sport” before they start thinking that exercise is synonymous with team or competitive sport. Play equipment and sports teams will always be dominated by the most boisterous kids with the others on the edges. I’d landscape those edges with small steep hillocks for running, jumping, practising handstands. I’d build a playhouse with hand and footholds to get to a quiet reading book on the roof. I’d put treestumps and low beamsinstead of benches. And I’d offer dance.classes, but also have a dancing area for playtimes with a range of music to explore moving to.

    Clothilde wrote on October 13th, 2011
  35. You should come up with a homeschooling PE curriculum. For the people who do have the power to teach what they want and how they teach it. Right now we go to a weekly gymnastics class with my 4 year-old, but I was trying to figure out how to develop his upper body strength. (He’s not too keen on push-ups yet.)

    Maggie wrote on October 13th, 2011
  36. Our PE classes weren’t like those described in this post Mark. Overall, I’d say they were pretty good. Everything we did was mainly based around sport so we would do football (soccer) for a few weeks, rugby for a few weeks, basketball for a few weeks, athletics for a few weeks, cross country for a few weeks and so on.

    The main thing I think we were missing from your post is the strength training. We didn’t have a weights room of any kind and very rarely did pressups or any other bodyweight exercises.

    Also I think free play is a really good idea – particularly for break/lunch times. A lot of the time the kids at our school spent their breaks and lunches sitting in the common room or in the library. Perhaps, closing these rooms once a week would be a great way to get people outside and being more active?

    Finally, as a lot of people are saying – they need to be more regular. I think we did them for 1 or 2 hours once a week.

    Tom Parker wrote on October 13th, 2011
  37. You’re all over it, Mark! I remember Chicken Fat (and hating it). But I also remember the cool stuff, like dodgeball, capture the flag, kickball, steal the bacon, as well as the more mundane but challenging things, like shuttle runs, mile runs, etc. Keep fighting the good fight. You might just save gym class — and the human race!

    TJ wrote on October 13th, 2011
  38. Our PE classes primarily involved playing team sports (which I suck at) and since the class and usually combined classes were far bigger than a team, meant a lot of standing around doing very little.

    Only once in a while would they introduce some kind of game that was actually fun and in which everyone could actively participate nearly nonstop. But people got bruised and so they didn’t do it often.

    I think that reading is key to education and that what needs to be done is a scared straight kind of thing. A kinder and gentler version at first but by junior high it should be the full on prison thing. They need to be told the need to learn to read. Too bad if it’s hard, you’ll get better by doing it. Little kids should be told how much more fun school will be if they get good at reading and how miserable the next approx 10 years will be if they don’t. Of course, I think the reason many don’t learn to read at their level like they are supposed to is that they don’t have the vocabulary. someone needs to spend hours just talking to them.

    Betterways wrote on October 13th, 2011
  39. Mark this is another great and also important topic. I too remember that as a kid, I did not particularly enjoyed gym classes. What they would call “physical education” was actually merely competition games. I never learned anything about real-world movement. Where I grew up, the woods were just 100 yards from my house and of course I would spend most of my free time there. It is where I learned all the fundamentals: running, jumping, climbing, crawling, balancing, lifting and carrying, throwing and catching etc…and optimally developed physically, while never let my body become like a “fossil”. Intuitively, I knew real physical education was taking place in the woods but not at school. From childhood to teenage, “PE” has always been mainly based on such games, and they’ve always been utterly boring to me, as they were all about competition and – to me totally subjective – rules. I have never been convinced of the priority value (not that they don’t have any of course, it only seems secondary to me) of such classes in school, and I knew something much more valuable and enticing was awaiting for me in the woods, running hills and climbing boulders.
    Not all kids are blessed with an environment which would encourage them to move naturally: woods, hills, parks, playgrounds…but also parents showing them the way, leading by example, and encouraging their children to go play outside and to MOVE, and parents who would be able to sometimes participate and move and play with their children. I believe the latter to be fundamental. When my father would have me climb high on a tree when I was still a young kid, it was not really “play” anymore, it was scary, but highly rewarding: I trusted my dad’s guidance, and understood the necessity to be strong and go beyond my fears. This IS education, and it is critical for any human being to receive such an education. I’ve never received it or expected it from school, unfortunately. We probably need to take care of that part of our education ourselves. To begin with, we want to rehab parent’s ability to move naturally in efficient and safe ways, so they can show their own kids that they too can move, how important it is to move, and encourage them to do it to, in a safe manner. Parents, and the example and guidance they are able to provide, are a big part of a children environment. They should not expect their children will be active physically and outside if themselves never do it, just like they can’t expect their kids to eat healthy if themselves eat unhealthy. I believe parents must reawaken or re-learn those skills, make it part of their own lifestyle, and become able to lead by example again, and nurture a healthy life for the whole family. With such parents, we will see more healthy, physically active children, this is a no-brainer.

    Erwan wrote on October 13th, 2011
  40. Interesting article. Although I agree with most of your points, I think that there are a few key things that might be missing from your argument, but it’s not my blog:) The first thing I want to address is the concepts behind the national P.E. standards found here, http://www.aahperd.org/naspe/standards/nationalStandards/PEstandards.cfm . Meeting the needs of such a broad range of students is very difficult as a teacher. Most of the “new” P.E. teachers are using these standards to build amazing programs. The core concepts in elementary education deal with building a varitey of locomotor, non-locomotor and manipulative skills in their first 6 years. Time, coaching and correct demonstration are required to build these skills and from my point of view, we rarely give the kids enough time to build these essential skills that will allow them to move with confidence in their respective environments. One of the biggest issues in dealing with this is socio-economic status. I am a very strong advocate for your ideas relating to community based activity. I know you have a ton going on but if you get a chance, check out this non-profit based here in Tucson; http://grow2bfit.org/ , they could use support from folks like you.

    Brian wrote on October 13th, 2011

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