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.

A happy, healthy heart

It’s never too early to get active, so first graders should use exercise to learn new athletic skills. (It’s a worthy goal to be able to recognize and enjoy a good workout.) As physical education specialist Amy Kaiser explains, “Young children often have short bursts of energy. Then [they] stop and wonder why their chests are thumping. Sometimes there’s a fear that something’s wrong.”

“It’s wonderful to [experience] the celebration of muscles and heart and lungs all working together,” Kaiser adds. “A ‘happy heart workout’ is a lesson learned for a lifetime.”

Movin’ and groovin’

First graders build on skills they developed in kindergarten. They should get practice walking, running, hopping, jumping, leaping, galloping, sliding, skipping, dodging, landing, turning, and side-stepping. In group activities, kids should learn how to move and change direction quickly. The teacher might call out directions for the group to walk backward before giving a signal to switch to skipping forward. Kids will start to become aware of their own personal space — and should learn to respect that of others.

Jump ropes make for a great first-grade physical activity — kids can go fast, go slow, or vary the pace. “Jumping rope is a universal game that has skills rooted in many sports,” says Kaiser. When they’re tired of jumping, kids can try obstacle courses, which integrate a variety of sports equipment, skills, and concepts. Group activities, like parachute play, dance, or old-fashioned tag, are also an option.

Children should also work to improve their throwing, catching, and kicking skills. They should learn the proper technique to throw both overhand and underhand. Kids can practice their ball skills by bouncing a ball using one or two hands, hitting a ball off a tee, or kicking balls with their feet.

New adventures

In PE first graders should balance, sit, kneel, squat, stand, bend, sway, rock, swing, turn, twist, push, and pull.

Kaiser suggests turning a trip to the playground into a miniature adventure. “Children love to show off their skill and strength on playground equipment. Some supervision and help may be necessary, but it provides a good way to interact with your child. As a parent, look around at the different equipment and realize the apparatus is developed for your child to grow in strength and coordination. Swinging, climbing, hand-over-hand bars are great examples of equipment designed for your child’s development.”

Relationship rules

First graders should learn about teamwork and relationships by cooperating with partners and playing in groups. Young kids should also learn how to follow the rules of these activities — rules that include sharing, taking turns, and assisting other teammates.

What to look for when you visit the classroom

  • A balance beam and tumbling mats
  • Balls, including soccer balls, basketballs, and softballs (oversized and lightweight balls are easier to use)
  • Beanbags of various sizes
  • Frisbees
  • Jump ropes and Hula-Hoops

 Updated July 2010