By Rachel B.
I find myself sitting in math class staring at the clock. What am I waiting for? I’m patiently waiting for the clock to strike one o’clock, that time of day when I get to leave my desk, my pencil and notebook and go to the gymnasium. I don’t know about any of you, but growing up my favourite class was always gym. That hour during the day where I could run around, break a sweat and not be falling asleep staring at numbers. It was a time to re-energize and reset my mind for the rest of the day. So why are they cutting this quality time out of the curriculum more and more each year? For some reason people are convinced that more time spent on subjects like math, science and reading will develop more prepared and successful youth. This means there is less time during the school day for subjects such as gym, art and music.
Personally, I think that this approach is hindering youth development. Current research also supports this point of view. Physical activity is such an important component for healthy growth and development. School can be a very stressful time for many youth. They are experiencing new relationships, bodily changes and pressure from parents to perform well. Physical activity is a great outlet to release stress and increase self-confidence. School-based physical education programs engage the students in regular physical activity and help them acquire skills and habits necessary to pursue an active lifestyle (Trost & Van der Mars, 2009).
In today’s society there is a major increase in obesity levels at young ages. People seem to believe that this is because:
1. There is an increase in screen time and technology use by youth today.
2. There is a greater intake of processed and fast foods and therefore youth are not eating a well balanced diet.
Yes, these are both logical reasons for why we are seeing higher obesity rates. However, a major issue that people are ignoring is the reduced amount of time youth are spending engaging in physical activity. Participating in gym class influences what youth participate in outside of school as well. Gym class is a time to learn rules and try many different sports to test students’ abilities. These opportunities allow students to see their strengths and what activities they enjoy most. This may influence if they enrol in an after school or community sport/recreation program. Quality early learning experiences not only develop physical competencies, but also perceptions of competence that underlie the motivation that is vital to continuing participation (Kirk, 2005). Some students don’t enrol in additional programs or participate in physical activity after school so gym is their only opportunity to be active. Gym class also helps students develop transferable skills. Participation and exposure to a variety of activities promote skills such as team building, problem solving and leadership skills. If administrators were making evidence based decisions they would be increasing physical education programs in school settings rather than making cuts.
The Research and Links to Physical Activity and Academics
Research demonstrates that there is a link between physical activity and academic performance. Studies strongly suggest that engaging in physical activity throughout the school day enables students to be more focused and ready to learn. Research in this area indicates that aerobic exercise can improve memory and cognitive functioning in school-age youth (Strong et al, 2005). It is recommended that youth participate every day in 60 minutes or more of moderate to vigorous physical activity (Strong et al., 2005). Many youth are not meeting this requirement if schools are only offering 30 minutes of physical activity three times per week.
Suggestions for Teachers:
There are other options for teachers to achieve increased physical activity for their students outside of the allotted gym class time. Learning does not need to be stationary. Teachers can choose to introduce more interactive lessons in the classroom setting. Classes can take place outdoors and teachers can enhance learning by having the students moving in some form. Teacher’s can also explain gym class plans in the classroom before going to the gymnasium. This approach will save time sitting around waiting for instructions and increase activity time.
Kirk, D. (2005). Physical education, youth sport and lifelong participation: The Importance of early learning experiences. European Physical Education Review, 11(3), 239-255. doi:10.1177/1356336×05056649
Strong, W. B., Malina, R. M., Blimkie, C. J., Daniels, S. R., Dishman, R. K., Gutin, B., Trudeau, F. (2005). Evidence Based Physical Activity for School-age Youth. The Journal of Pediatrics, 146(6), 732-737. doi:10.1016/j.jpeds.2005.01.055
Trost, S. G., & Van de Mars, H. (2009, January). Why we should eliminate physical education to increase time for reading and math, the theory goes, and achievement will rise. But the evidence says otherwise. Educational Leadership, 3(1), 60-66. Retrieved October 2, 2016.