Hollow Tree Ventures parenting humor
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I'll Take a Side of Athletics With My Kids' Academics, Please

The other day my mom referred to me as the “athletic one” in our family, which made me laugh so hard I almost pulled a muscle (something, incidentally, that probably wouldn’t happen to someone who was actually athletic).

As I tried to catch my breath, my mom had to agree that the standards for athleticism were pretty low at my house when I was growing up. “Well,” she explained, “my parents always emphasized academics over sports. Heck, my sister was considered the athletic one when we were kids, and that’s just because she liked horses! She didn’t even ride them, she just liked them!”

So, that’s how she raised us too, which meant that I was considered “sporty” based on the fact that I was slender and took an elective gym class once (which I dropped on the second day of the semester, by the way). My parents didn’t seem to care too much about what happened in gym; they did, however, have an elaborate cash-based reward system for classroom grades that ensured I always made the honor roll.

We had a good laugh, but I had to wonder: How many other households out there, either through example, their family reward system, or just with passing comments, tend to support academic fitness over physical fitness?

Well, this year I’ve spent a lot of time volunteering in my youngest kid’s kindergarten classroom, and let me tell you, it’s been a real eye-opener—and not just because of the shocking amount of nose picking that goes on.

Her teacher has the class do fifteen minutes of aerobics and stretches to prep their minds for learning at the start of each day. At the beginning of the year, I have to sheepishly admit I kind of saw that as a waste of valuable learning time (please don’t tell Mrs. Rose I said that, though). After all, they have gym class, don’t they? But I changed my tune in a hurry when I saw the difference in the kids on days when they didn’t have time to get their blood flowing—lethargic and distracted, to say the least. The same thing happens when bad weather keeps recess confined to the classroom, too.

And as for my question, “They have gym class, don’t they?” Yes, they have gym.

One day a week. For forty minutes.

When you add in twenty minutes for daily recess (or less, if they sit there and pick at their lunch instead of eating it, which OF COURSE THEY DO, because they’re kids), you’re looking at around two hours of PE-related activity total per week. And we aren’t alone at our school; only 4% of elementary schools, 8% of middle schools, and 2% of high schools provide daily PE or its equivalent for the entire school year.

Many people, myself included (until this year), are unaware of how little physical activity today's learners are afforded.

Let’s face it, though we know that children need sixty minutes of physical activity a day, we mostly just tell ourselves that our kids go to the playground and chase the dog around the house plenty. But is it adding up to an hour of active play? What about when it’s rainy? What about all those months when it’s ALREADY DARK by the time you get home? What about kids who don’t have a safe place to play, or sixty minutes of outdoor supervision at home when their parents aren’t busy making dinner, helping with homework, or giving baths?

PE programs can help fill that gap.

Plus, PE class builds confidence and skills they can’t get in other learning environments. Seeing my own daughter's face light up in gym class when she finally managed to dribble a basketball properly was a game changer for me. It was the same look of pride and accomplishment that she gets when she finishes another sight word book, or gets a question right in class.

We can’t deprive our kids of these moments.

We have to show them that we value PE programs, or else our kids will grow up believing that it’s unimportant, compounding the problem for future generations. Now that I understand the connection, I’m stopping the “academics over athletics” mindset in my house.

Because PE doesn’t just help our kids feel better, it also helps our kids learn better.

Voices for Healthy Kids, a joint initiative of the American Heart Association and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, aims to foster a national conversation about the need to ensure quality PE as a part of every child’s education, because they understand that there’s a strong connection between physical education and academic performance. PE and classroom learning go hand in hand to address the whole child, mind and body.

The good news is that the federal education law, ESSA, now includes PE and health as part of what they describe as a “well-rounded curriculum,” meaning that these programs are eligible for federal funding. However, each state has to develop their own plan, and if PE isn’t included in a state’s plan, it won’t have access to that funding!

Do you know if your kids are getting enough PE? Join the PE Action Team at Voices For Healthy Kids to protect physical education. Then stop here to learn more about how you can work to increase PE in your community!

This post reflects a compensated editorial partnership with Voices for Healthy Kids, a joint initiative of the American Heart Association and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

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