Learning about math, language arts, science and other subjects for six
hours or more a day can be tiring for students, which is why activity
breaks during the school day are important to refresh both the mind and
body. But one of the most important outlets for kids--physical education,
or P.E.--doesn't get the time it deserves at many schools.
While minimum standards for P.E. vary by state in the absence of federal
requirements, experts generally recommend 150 minutes of P.E. a week at
elementary schools and 225 minutes at middle and high schools. However,
in America, only Oregon and the District of Columbia meet that recommendation,
according to the recent2016 Shape of the Nation report.
"There are several reasons why P.E. can take a backseat when it comes
to school," says
Lisa Hoang, MD, a board-certified pediatrician at
St. Joseph Heritage Medical Group. "There's only so much time in a school day, and P.E. may be
an easy cut from the schedule compared to core subjects. There's also
the matter of funding--some schools may only be able to pay for part-time
teachers, or if they do have P.E. teachers on staff, there's not a
lot of money to fund their P.E. program. And some schools let students
opt out of P.E. in favor of another class, such as marching band.
But P.E. is important, says Dr. Hoang. "If you look at those recommended
standards for P.E. instruction in elementary schools, it breaks down to
30 minutes a day--in other words, that's half of the 60 minutes of
physical activity kids should have each day. Losing P.E. time means a
significant loss of opportunity for exercise that kids need to make up
elsewhere in their day. "
How can you ensure your child is getting the necessary physical education
time? Dr. Hoang suggests talking with your child's teacher or a school
administrator to see what the campus P.E. program entails. "At least
of half of every P.E. class should have students moving and active--no
sitting on the bleachers for long stretches or team sports where kids
don't get much opportunity to play," Dr. Hoang says. "Find
out if the school has a teacher in charge of the P.E. curriculum and see
what is planned for your child's grade level." If you think there
aren't enough minutes of P.E., ask how you can help as a volunteer.
"Parents can support the work of a P.E. teacher by helping run organized
games or physical fitness sessions with calisthenics," Dr. Hoang says.
Parents can also help supplement P.E. programs by organizing before- and
after-school fitness clubs. "Some schools offer extracurricular programs
in running, yoga, Zumba or dance," Dr. Hoang says.
Also, encourage your child to run around and play during recess. "While
it may be tempting for your child to just hang out and talk with their
friends, suggest that they start a game of kickball or four square, or
even just use the playground equipment," Dr. Hoang says. "Lunch
recess is another good time to volunteer and oversee organized activity,
such as soccer or jump roping." High schoolers who have fulfilled
their P.E. requirement should play on a school's sports team or in
an after-school rec league. "Organized sports offers the chance for
skill-based learning along with physical activity."
Finally, make sure your child is active at home. "Homework, extracurricular
activities, family dinners--they all are important," Dr. Hoang says.
"But it's easy to fit in 30 minutes at a park or even a family
walk around the block after dinner. Limiting the screen time to do more
exercise encourages a healthy and active lifestyle. Doing the activity
as a family serves as a great bonding time as well."
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