Physical activity and physical education are two terms that are often mistakenly used interchangeably. While there are inherent similarities and overlapping areas, there’s one point that needs to be made clear—physical education and physical activity are not synonymous.
Physical Activity is any movement of the body that isn’t sedentary. Getting moving in any respect is physical activity and is beneficial to well-being. For kids, it can be walking to school, doing chores, or the age old school break called recess.
Recess is a time for kids to run around limited only by their imaginations. It can involve a few swings of an imaginary bat, jumping to shoot baskets, or playing tag with best friends. This kind of fun counts for physical activity, not education.
When kids are at home and they ride bikes, head to dance practice, or chase lightning bugs around the yard, it also accounts for physical activity. It’s important. It releases endorphins, builds muscle and bone density, and improves coordination. However, physical activity does not complete the picture of good health for children. Physical education contains physical activity and sets up children for long-term health of the body, mind, and spirit.
According to the 2010 Shape of the Nation report conducted by the National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE) and the American Heart Association, “Physical education is based on a sequence of learning … [which] also includes health, nutrition, social responsibility, and the value of fitness throughout one’s life… Providing time for unstructured physical activity is not the same as providing instructional time for meeting the goals of quality physical education.”
The “unstructured physical activity” opportunities students have during free periods isn’t the same as structured learning about the human body and nutrition. The cyber age has made kids slaves to small gadgets where finger exercise has replaced walking to meet a friend to talk.
The education aspect of physical education comes into play when teachers combine motion with minds. Middle school challenges can involve running to different locations to put together a puzzle, or to seek out objects on a map. Education can focus on specific skills and coordination, like how to throw a flying disc or use a hockey stick. High school students will learn the value of nutrition and pair that with circuit training. They’ll learn how to set goals and how to stay active in achieving those goals.
Research is the basis for each of these strategies. These examples and others are proven to work, not only to improve the health knowledge of students, but to enable them to comprehend other subjects as well. It’s not just test scores that will improve. The health and well-being of the students, their abilities, their outlook, and their potential will all improve.
Physical education isn’t just calisthenics anymore. Badminton, self-defense, square dancing and archery are more contemporary offerings in many schools.
The American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance is an association dedicated to the health and well-being of America’s youth. The Alliance’s members (NASPE, for one) are a wealth of information about the importance of physical education, the research behind the information, and why it’s important in the first place.
Many states mandate physical education requirements for kids from Kindergarten through high school. Minutes per week for younger students and credits toward high school graduation are spelled out in the education standards of many state laws.
Core curriculum goals address knowledge and activities students need to demonstrate mastery of to obtain passing scores. Special needs kids are not exempt. Adapted physical education classes taught by certified teachers work within a child’s physical ability and developmental levels to achieve the same goals.
Physical education and physical activity are both vital to the health and well-being of American youth.
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