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

Healthy lifestyle

Third graders should learn about the benefits of regular physical activity. Their new knowledge should allow them to articulate the importance of a lifestyle that includes getting enough sleep and eating well.

PE can often influence decisions over a lifetime, as children start to understand how the choices they make affect them and their peers. In third grade, students begin to take fitness tests. As physical education specialist Amy Kaiser explains: “Fitness tests are a gauge to see where a child [stands]. Children can look at their results and set a goal to increase or practice that skill in order to improve the next time.”

Many students at this age get involved in physical activities outside of school. “It is so exciting after teaching a unit that we can have a class discussion about opportunities in the community to increase participation,” Kaiser says. “Students start to connect their school lives to the greater community around them.”

To encourage physical activity at home, Kaiser suggests decreasing the amount of screen time: “As a parent truly one of the most helpful things you can do is turn off the TV. Think of TV like the fats and oils section of the food pyramid: OK in moderation but not healthy in large quantities for a healthy diet. Turning off the TV encourages outdoor play, creativity, and more interaction with friends and family members.”

Smooth moves

Group games and exercises can be a great way to help third graders develop new skills. A good P.E. class allows children to walk, run, hop, jump, leap, gallop, slide, skip, turn, side-step, and twist. Kids might try various jump-rope tricks, like running in, jumping, and running out while the rope is still turning. Or they might create dance routines to music.

Children should demonstrate the knowledge and skills needed to participate in a large variety of games and sports. At the same time, they should improve their throwing, catching, and kicking skills. Kids should use both hands to throw while fine-tuning accuracy and form in throwing and catching. Junior soccer players can work on trapping, dribbling, kicking, and passing skills.

Third-graders engage in various exercises to improve their endurance, learning to understand how to increase cardiovascular endurance, flexibility, and muscle strength. They’ll also engage in aerobic activities like tag and running.

Social skills

Third graders should learn about the rules that go with the many games and sports they play. Even more importantly, they’ll learn cooperation and teamwork skills.

Kids can demonstrate teamwork and aid a teammate by “spotting” him (or her), and offering encouraging words. Learning to respect the rights and feelings of others is part of what makes team sports work. Students should learn to demonstrate self-control and perseverance, too. Finally, kids should understand the importance of cooperation and sharing.

What to look for when you visit

  • Various balls such as a soccer ball, volleyball, playground ball, basketball, and baseball
  • Hula-Hoops
  • Jump ropes
  • Frisbees
  • Balance beam
  • Chart with proper stretching techniques

 Updated July 2010