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No More Dodge Ball: What's New In PE?

Elementary school physical education used to be made up of dodge ball and annual fitness tests. At a number of schools today, it's being reinvented.

By GreatSchools Staff

There's a quiet revolution in physical education. The focus on team sports that gave athletic stars a chance to shine is shifting to one that prepares all students to be fit for life. While recess is under siege at many schools struggling to cram more academics into the school day, students at schools that embrace the new PE are participating in a class their parents wouldn't recognize.

Elementary School PE

The national PE teachers' organization, The National Association for Sports & Physical Education, recommends that school-age kids participate daily in 60 minutes or more of moderate to vigorous physical activity. The group advocates the kind of PE pioneered by Phillip Lawler in Naperville, Illinois, in the 1990s: a planned instructional program with specific objectives that aims to teach students how to be fit and enjoy physical activity.

This starts in elementary school with teaching children basic movement skills and developing these skills in a wide range of physical activities.

"Somewhere throughout the school year, the child should feel there's an activity they're successful at," says Jacalyn Lind, president of the national PE teachers' organization.

This doesn't mean team sports aren't part of a good PE program. But teachers may modify the rules, the size of teams or the equipment to insure that all kids are involved, active and getting practice in new skills.

What Does This Look Like From the Sidelines?

"You may never see an adult form of a game until high school," says Lind. Take soccer, where a team normally has 11 members. "In 11-on-11 soccer, that's 1 ball, 11 on each team. What are the chances of getting to make contact with the ball? But 3-on-3 soccer has a low equipment-to-student ratio." That translates into more skill-building for more students.

PE, Old and New

Old PE: Students take a physical fitness test once a year, with little conditioning or understanding of how the results might relate to individual goals. The results are interpreted in relation to national norms, posted publicly and the best-performing kids can get awards.

New PE: Fitness is regularly assessed as part of a process to help children understand how to enjoy and improve their physical fitness. Students are physically prepared and scientifically based fitness systems are sometimes used. The results are private and used to set personal goals.

Old PE: Push-ups are used as punishment.

New PE: Activity is a reward. Students who complete an academic assignment go to an activity station where they might spend time practicing a dance video game - a cardiovascular workout and a chance to develop coordination.

In other words, the new PE is a chance for all kids - from future quarterbacks to soccer dads - to acquire the skills they'll use as adults and an understanding of why it's important to use them.

Lawler says those who teach it should ask themselves every day: "What am I teaching these children today that'll be important for the rest of their lives?"

Comments from readers

"dodge ball hurts and is a mean game! "
"This is a pure load! I'm 13 and personally I miss dodgeball and other sports. These new "games" take the competition and fun out of everything and I'm just a benchwarmer! They need to go back to the way things were not this hippie everyone should have the same "great" experience nonsense! "
"You adults don't even know whats going on! There is nothing fun to do in PE anymore so most people are just skipping the class, you've created a monster. "
"I am 11 years old and have to go through the new P.E and let me tell you in my school (Fairfax Va, sILVERBROOK)the way you explained it sounded like a lie xDD first we now have written test plus 2 test there the miles which you have to run in 5min the push uop test and ect "
"Pure nonsense! The new PE is full of baloney. What kind of kids are we trying to raise? And what happens when they turn out for competitive sports? Do you think these new rules for the new PE applies? I don't think so!"
"Mostly what we do is walk or run. We do occasionally play an enhanced soccer game or 'speed ball', a game the teacher made up, I think. Also push-ups could be a punishment for not bringing P.E. clothes or just a normal exercise."
"Kids are not getting enough physical education. Most elementary schools are only giving on P.E. day a week. This is what leads to americas problems of Obesity."
"In my son's fourth grade class, the teacher announced a competition at the beginning of the year. The kids would be able to earn a badge if they were the best at push-ups or sit-ups. The problem with that is that she did not instruct them on the proper way to do them for the age of the students. My son gave up after the first week because there were a few boys who could do them already and he was just learning. I feel this is old school and possibly harmful (physically and emotionally) to the kids. I'm all for more physical education as long as education is involved. My son says he doesn't ever want to try to do these exercises even though I try to motivate him. "
"Expanding PE for all students K-12 is necessary if we are going to address issues of child obesity and development of lifetime healthy behaviors. Educators appear to be only concerned about the 'grade' their school will get when assessed by their states. I agree that parents never hear what their children are doing until conference time--when it is too late. We MUST take the intiative at the state level to insist that our schools provide at least 30 minutes of PE each day. All learning does not happen in science and math class. We are quickly becoming a nation where children do not know how to appropriately interact with others and how to be responsible. Sometimes the best lessons are not from books. "
"It's great to have a PE in every school! In Russia, kids have PE 3 to 4 times per week, and it is important as math or other subjects. "
"The CA elementary school that I work at provides each class 35 minute sessions, twice a week, for P.E. It is a shame that physical health is being pushed aside so that children can learn to copy information in order to pass tests. This is a hot spot for me. Yea for new programs - boo for not being able to implement daily physical education in ALL elementary schools. (Don't even get me started on zero art and/or music lessons...P.E. is next to get nipped!)"
"I’m glad to receive reports on public school physical education programs. And am delighted you keep track of these things. I’m interested in knowing how many schools in the US, and possibly abroad, have initiated a Wellness/Violence Prevention program? I’m interested in specific targeted programs that concentrate on situations of violence, how to prevent and avoid them and also self defense for girls. Considering the degree of women who are raped and sexual or physically assaulted every year, I think it is unconscionable not to have such a program in every school in the country. We live in a culture permeated by violence. Girls Inc has an excellent program that I’ve been looking into and intend to follow up on and initiate when I have more time in the coming months. Thank you for your time! Amy Semler Gerstman"
"My son is starting Kindergarten this fall and I was worried how he would handle the transition from being with me where I incorporate outdoor and physical activities throughout the day to keep him moving. I pray that his school will incorporate the new P.E. so my goals for a healthy active lifestyle can continue without being hindered by a necessary but inactive school-day routine."
"It would be nice if ALL schools across the board would embrace the importance of Physical Education. Unfortunately, some schools are more concerned about the score they will be assigned after student state scores are graded. Therefore, some schools cut time from Physical Education minutes to make even more time for Language Arts and Math. I agree that Language Arts and Math are important; however, some children are on information overload. That to me is not right. Everyone needs to start advocating for a balanced school schedule which includes at least 15 to 20 minutes of daily Physical Education. "
"I couldn't be happier to hear that the PE programs are to be revamped. We never hear what the children are doing except during conference time. There is total lack of evidence that the children are learning concrete skills in physical education. The teacher has no documented achievement lists for each child. How do we hold the PE teachers responsible and accountable without any formal tracking? PE should be a daily course, not a biweekly treat for the kids."
"Children today do not get recess after lunch like we did. They have to do school work. Because of all the tests they take like Fcat. The teacher have to cut back on recess to get children ready for the Fcat and other testing. So that has alot to do with children obesity."
"EXCELLENT!! Physical activity is a life skill. I am glad the elementary PE programs are teaching kids how to enjoy it."
"AMEN!!!! I wish this was a little sooner though, I am now homeschooling my son and one of the reasons was because of inactivity for him. I think this is a great change, but will the new jersey schools use it...."