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

Creative exercise

Second graders can use their burgeoning imaginations to explore new athletic abilities. “Second graders are very creative,” says physical education specialist Amy Kaiser. “In PE that creativity can be displayed in many ways and can be encouraged by [letting] students create their own ‘animal walks,’ tumbling routines, or games.”

New strengths, new skills

Whether it’s walking and running; hopping, jumping, and leaping; or galloping, sliding, skipping, and turning — second graders are expected to build on the physical skills they learned in first grade. They should have time to practice combining these movements and try transitioning between them. Kids can use these skills to run relay races, play tag, or explore obstacle courses. Dance classes offer an artistic alternative.

Sports are a good way to keep students active. In soccer, children learn to dribble, pass, kick, and trap the ball. Playing softball, they’ll swing bats and learn to pitch. Teachers can help by breaking down the steps involved in throwing a ball. They should demonstrate how to stand, when to transfer weight, and how to follow through smoothly. On the basketball court, children should get practice shooting and dribbling.

PE should also teach warm-up and cool-down exercises such as pull-ups, push-ups, and stretches, which can help children get comfortable with starting an exercise routine.

Healthy living

Second-graders should learn to appreciate the importance of a healthy lifestyle and learn to care for their bodies by getting enough sleep, eating well, and committing to regular physical activity.

Teamwork and sportsmanship

Children in second grade should become more capable of cooperating with others during games and sports. They should learn more problem-solving skills, such as how to resolve a conflict by saying “Sorry.”

As Kaiser observes, “Rock, paper, scissors is the great equalizer. It seems so simple, but it’s an effective strategy when kids can’t resolve a conflict. Students accept it. It’s a goal that students at this age will start to solve their own disputes on the playground, as well.”

Perhaps most important, kids should learn how to be safe, follow rules, and share.

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 best)
  • Frisbees
  • Jump ropes and Hula-Hoops
  • A chart showing techniques for stretching
  • Plastic bats

Updated July 2010

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