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

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