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Your third grader and PE

Many third graders apply their PE skills to sports and activities outside of school.

Child playing soccer

By GreatSchools Staff

Whatever you thought of gym class, the current debate over childhood obesity has made PE more relevant than ever. As the website for First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign informs us, kids need “60 minutes of active and vigorous play every day to grow up to a healthy weight.” Some schools are even using video games to lure kids to the gym. In an ideal setting, P.E. doesn’t just improve fitness — it also reduces stress, strengthens friendships, and improves self-confidence and self-esteem.

Is your child getting the physical education she needs? Check out our grade-by-grade guidelines to see what kids should be learning in PE.

Healthy lifestyle

Third graders should learn about the benefits of regular physical activity. Their new knowledge should allow them to articulate the importance of a lifestyle that includes getting enough sleep and eating well.

PE can often influence decisions over a lifetime, as children start to understand how the choices they make affect them and their peers. In third grade, students begin to take fitness tests. As physical education specialist Amy Kaiser explains: “Fitness tests are a gauge to see where a child [stands]. Children can look at their results and set a goal to increase or practice that skill in order to improve the next time.”

Many students at this age get involved in physical activities outside of school. “It is so exciting after teaching a unit that we can have a class discussion about opportunities in the community to increase participation,” Kaiser says. “Students start to connect their school lives to the greater community around them.”

To encourage physical activity at home, Kaiser suggests decreasing the amount of screen time: “As a parent truly one of the most helpful things you can do is turn off the TV. Think of TV like the fats and oils section of the food pyramid: OK in moderation but not healthy in large quantities for a healthy diet. Turning off the TV encourages outdoor play, creativity, and more interaction with friends and family members.”

Smooth moves

Group games and exercises can be a great way to help third graders develop new skills. A good P.E. class allows children to walk, run, hop, jump, leap, gallop, slide, skip, turn, side-step, and twist. Kids might try various jump-rope tricks, like running in, jumping, and running out while the rope is still turning. Or they might create dance routines to music.

Children should demonstrate the knowledge and skills needed to participate in a large variety of games and sports. At the same time, they should improve their throwing, catching, and kicking skills. Kids should use both hands to throw while fine-tuning accuracy and form in throwing and catching. Junior soccer players can work on trapping, dribbling, kicking, and passing skills.

Third-graders engage in various exercises to improve their endurance, learning to understand how to increase cardiovascular endurance, flexibility, and muscle strength. They’ll also engage in aerobic activities like tag and running.

Social skills

Third graders should learn about the rules that go with the many games and sports they play. Even more importantly, they’ll learn cooperation and teamwork skills.

Kids can demonstrate teamwork and aid a teammate by “spotting” him (or her), and offering encouraging words. Learning to respect the rights and feelings of others is part of what makes team sports work. Students should learn to demonstrate self-control and perseverance, too. Finally, kids should understand the importance of cooperation and sharing.

What to look for when you visit

  • Various balls such as a soccer ball, volleyball, playground ball, basketball, and baseball
  • Hula-Hoops
  • Jump ropes
  • Frisbees
  • Balance beam
  • Chart with proper stretching techniques

 Updated July 2010

Comments from readers

"This is all great and all. But why are we seeing a million articles like this that describe why PE is so important. In my opinion, that's a given. Why don't we talk about, since it's so important, that our children need PE every day. Name one school that does that. Right now our kids are getting PE two times a week in the 3rd grade and they're only 8-9 years old. Our actions speak lounder than words. If our kids only get PE twice a week, we are sending the wrong message already. In addtion, this situation also puts pressure on the family unit, having to provide extra PE time after school for each individual kid (which comes in the form of a paid sporting activity). And even a paid activity does not provide every day PE. The family unit then, has to also make time for homework, dinner and bed time. So now, we've imposed on the family unit's quality family time. Our families our spiraling down fast in the US with the high rate of divorce because the schools can't do ! their job correctly. Let's stop talking about why PE is so important if the schools can't even do a good job of fitting it in their daily schedule. "
"As a parent, I am curious. Our children have been preparing for the President's Fitness Exam - which is fine. My concern is that 3rd graders are being made to run a mile during PE. Is this too much for 8 & 9 year-olds?"
"'THE' Problem is we have surrendered the teaching of fundemental motor skills to the local ameteur Little League coach (not just baseball). In the past these wanabee coaches have been sent children who at least knew how to throw, strike, and run. Such is not the case now. Many now choose not to participate."
"I need specific active ideas for P.E for my third grade class. I'm a student teacher and have no clue where where to find ideas. Help!"