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Is Gym Class Enough Exercise For Your Child


gym_class_resizeThe gym class of old- complete with dodgeball, rope climbing, and square dancing- is long gone. Replaced with activities like yoga, frisbee, and bocce ball, this isn't your father's Phys. Ed.


In the past, gym class was purely about physical fitness. Now, schools have expanded the focus to include mental and emotional components of health, including teamwork, problem solving, and healthy lifestyle choices. These are all great goals for our children, but are the parameters of today's physical education curriculum enough exercise for our children?


States are responsible for creating and monitoring their own physical education goals and standards. There is no national standardized assessment for physical education but The National Association for Sport and Physical Education has created voluntary national standards, to which states may align their curriculum. The standards include goals such as development of individual skills, adoption of an appropriate fitness routine, and social/emotional skills that show respect for self and others.


This leaves room for discrepancy among peers. For example, New Jersey requires 150 minutes of health and physical education per week in all grades 1-12 but does not require recess at the elementary school level. California, however, requires 200 minutes every ten days for grades 1-6 and 400 minutes every ten days for grades 7-12 and also mandates daily recess.


Wendy Naimaister, a physical education teacher in New Jersey, says her goal is to get her students moving as much as possible in the limited time she has with them, while still allowing time for direct instruction of skills. She emphasizes the need to use gym as a platform for helping children make their own healthy choices.


"If we could educate kids on maintaining their activity level and being responsible for their own health, we wouldn't have to limit the size of their sodas."


She goes on to praise the shift from the gym class of old to the more in-depth curriculum used today, also citing her ability to be creative and use the Nintendo Wii and the video game Dance Dance Revolution as ways to get otherwise-sedentary kids to move.


"We need to get everyone to look at it as physical education instead of gym class. Gym class has a negative connotation. Physical education is just that- educating kids about their bodies and their health."


Our children's physical health is in such need of attention, the White House has taken a very public stance. First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move initiative aims to fight the ever-growing childhood obesity problem in America by educating schools and families on healthy eating habits and incorporating more physical movement into the daily lives of children.


The Let's Move program is aligned with The Presidential Active Lifestyle Award(PALA+), a program designed to support healthy physical routines for Americans of all ages. The website for this initiative cites a recommended 60 minutes of physical activity each day for 5 days of the week for children under 18.


Benefits of sustained physical activity in children include maintaining a healthy weight, reducing blood pressure, and increasing HDL, the "good" cholesterol. Children who participate in 60 minutes of physical activity each day reportedly sleep better and have a more positive outlook on life than compared to their peers who do not exercise.


So are children meeting the recommended requirements for physical activity each day?


One parent, Christine M. of New Jersey, is disappointed with the availability of physical education classes for her children, especially sixth grader Ryan who only has one 45 minute class per week.


"These kids have a full day of rigorous course work. They need to move around during the day."


She says that most of the parents she speaks to would like more gym classes added to the schedule because though they have recess time, many kids are sitting and looking at books or trading cards during this time.


Her children, Ryan along with fourth grader Sean and KIndergartner Ava, all participate in three after-school activities each over the course of the year. She says her family is very active and cites her sons' football practices- at almost two hours each night- as the most extensive workout any of her kids get. That said, she and her husband have made a point to incorporate physical fitness into their family's life and ensure all their kids keep moving.


As parents and educators, we are doing our best to keep our kids healthy but at a time when our children's health is at such risk,  are we getting mixed messages? The First Lady created an initiative towards increasing physical activity but physical education classes are one of the first programs to get cut when adapting school-wide schedules. Though states and local school districts are ultimately responsible for implementing physical education curriculum, they can look to the federal Department of Education for help in maintaining significant levels of physical education in the school.


Through the Carol M. White Physical Education Program, beginning in 2001, schools can apply for grants to assist in the implementation of their physical education curriculum. In July 2012, 56 grants totaling $27 million were awarded to schools throughout the country. Schools must show their programs are helping students meet state standards and must include instruction on healthy eating habits. Recipients may use funding for activities or equipment that supports the development of motor skills and professional development for physical education teachers.


With limited time allotted each week for physical education in schools, it seems parents must be more vigilant about working exercise into their families' routines. Families and teachers both recognize the limitations of physical education classes but also praise the shift towards empowering students to make their own healthy choices.


Simple activities like going for a walk after dinner, riding bikes, or playing a game of touch football are simple ways to increase your child's activity level, help them establish a fitness routine, and spend time together. Like all other values, children often follow their parents' lead so setting the  tone for an active and healthy lifestyle starts with you. 60 minutes of physical activity each day may seem like a lot, but parents and teachers working together can help children reach this goal and establish healthy routes that will last a lifetime.


Jcerbasiennifer is an educational consultant who works with families and educators to establish healthy and productive routines in the home and school. Adapting behavior management techniques she implemented for years as a special educator, she helps parents and teachers adopt these tools to fit their unique needs and priorities. In addition to her one-on-one consulting work, Jennifer speaks to parent and education groups on current topics in education and children's health. For more information, go to




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