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Your fifth grader and PE

Linking exercise to other lifestyle habits helps fifth graders make the connection between PE and overall health.

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, PE 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 he needs? Check out our grade-by-grade guidelines to see what kids should be learning in PE.

Fitness facts

PE should be fun, fostering social interaction and not just physical fitness. In fifth grade, kids take part in activities to increase their cardiovascular fitness, strength, and flexibility, while also learning new skills, including cooperative play, teamwork, and sportsmanship.

Children are also introduced to a variety of team sports such as flag football, volleyball, and field hockey. Gymnastics and dance help teach other lessons including balance.

Muscle memory

To help them grasp the basics of physical conditioning, fifth graders should study up on major muscle groups and learn about targeted stretches. “Understanding muscle groups and body systems helps students understand how exercise contributes to good health,” says physical education specialist Amy Kaiser. “It’s fun to try to name the muscle you’re stretching.”

Cooperative games

PE isn’t just about sports. Students should also learn to play cooperative games throughout the year. By working with a partner, they can learn to cooperate on a shared goal, and teachers can emphasize the importance of displaying good sportsmanship, win or lose.

“Sportsmanship is such an important quality,” says Kaiser. “Being able to recognize that everyone has something to contribute to a group or team is a sign of maturity and good sportsmanship.”

Fitness assessments

It’s not uncommon for fifth graders to take fitness tests at school, which are to measure their level of aerobic conditioning, muscle strength, and muscle flexibility. “Fitness tests are a gauge to see where a child [stands]. Children can look at their results and set goals to increase or practice skills in order to improve the next time.”

Healthy habits

Beyond exercise, fifth graders start to understand how to integrate healthy habits into their lives. Students should learn to eat well, sleep enough, and manage stress. Teachers often include lessons about diet and nutrition, lessons that help them sustain the physical skills they learn in PE.

Updated July 2010


Comments from GreatSchools.org readers

04/14/2008:
"I'm a fifth grader myself. We have all the equipent and time. On a regular basis we do P.E. for around forty minutes, 2 days a week. Our field has plenty of gopher holes ourselfs so we run a thing called, 'pacer' on the asphault instead of running the mile on the field. Usually there's five tests and most students pass 4 or 5 tests. We get to play a variety of sports too."
12/6/2007:
"In our school wrestling in part of the 5th grade curricula and therefore mandatory? Do students have any right to opt out of wrestling for non-medical reasons?"
05/18/2007:
"I read this article in disbelief. Where is this person coming from? My kids go to a nice middle class, good socio-economic area elementary school in CA and we don't have PE teachers so the teachers have to do their own PE. Most of the time the teachers do not have time and when they do, it is for 10-20 minutes once or twice a week. They usually have free time or a group game. I can totally agree with the former teacher who posted. There is no support or incentive for PE in the schools. There isn't any money. The Math and Reading tests are what is the most important thing stressed along with the No Child Left Behind issues. At least I can afford to put my kids in after school physical activities. I do wish my kids had PE teachers like I did when I was in elementary school and got to play softball, basketball, soccer, flag football, kickball, running, etc. It would be a nice way for the kids to try different activities out and get some exercise. "
05/17/2007:
"I am a former 5th. Grade teacher and every year it was getting ready for the physical fitness tests - running the mile; sit-ups; chin-ups,and stretch&reach. Preparation came 6 weeks before the test on a handout sheet of what you should do to prepare from our district officials.Our district was in charge of coming to our site and conducting the tests. Every year our kids failed and failed miserably. Why? There was no dedicated PE time on a weekly basis allotted for PE. We were told 90 minutes a week should be allowed for PE. We had to compete with 14 other classes for the time and space on the field. This was frustrating! We were teaching to the standards for NCLB! Reading and Math were the main focus. Also, we had NO PE equipment. No mats for students to lie on to do sit-ups,no stop watches to time students, our area to run the mile on was a grass field with hundreds of gopher holes. I can't count the sprained ankles when we tried to have the kids run even on the outside per! imeters. Then we had them run on the asphalt playground. Also, there were never any feedback from the district on help to prepare the kids. We were all set up for failure. Feedback was not given to us, so we never knew where or how well the student did. The physical test was given only in the spring never in the Fall to see if the kids made improvement. Plus, our students were Title 1 students on free lunch - all obese or near obese eating the school lunch and whatever at home. When information went home for the parents to help the majority are farmworkers and they don't have time to help their student. Also, the neighborhood around the school is an area populated by 2 opposing gangs. These students stay indoors because of the violence in their neighborhoods.So when PE mentioned in grade school, it is a joke - no support, no equipment, no incentive, no motivation, no time and no importance only NCLB curriculum counts. So getting kids physically fit in grade school is a joke!"
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