As a child in my school, PE was a once a week “special” that I absolutely LOVED! I couldn’t wait for my PE day in school, because I was a game loving, competitive, and physically active kid. I couldn’t relate to the kids who dreaded PE. However, in those days, PE was very competitive and Darwin-like . . . only the strongest survived! If you were not athletically inclined, you were the kid who stayed along the wall, avoided participating, usually the last one picked for a team, and who couldn’t wait for the class to end!
I reflect on those days and think about my students at TMS today. Some are athletes or budding athletes who just need some exposure to basic motor skills, while others are uncoordinated, uncomfortable and avoid participating. How can their skills improve if they don’t feel safe to try? I wanted to find a way to make PE a validating and fun experience for everyone.
An overarching goal in PE class is for the elementary-aged student to enjoy being active and recognize the importance of being active every day. In my lessons, I try to find a balance in activities that will engage student interest, allow them to develop gross motor skills, include some fitness, and practice working as a team while building cooperation strategies and sportsmanship skills. I emphasize teamwork, cooperation and sportsmanship to demonstrate the many different talents each child brings to class. It is easy for an athletic kid to dominate a game by taking charge or by just having strong gross motor skills. This kind of behavior pulls out the other athletic kids and contrasts with the uncertain kids, who are reluctant to take risks and simply fade into the background of the game.
Activities that build teamwork and strategies, and emphasize cooperation and strategy skills are the backbone of any sport and game. Most kids enjoy these activities as they are heavier on the critical thinking part than the actual physical part. These lessons can be particularly challenging for highly athletic students who are used to relying primarily on their athletic skills and not as much on a team plan. It can be challenging to learn to listen to others and develop a plan as a group. The child who likes to take charge discovers he or she is not the only one with a plausible idea and learns that sometimes his or her idea wasn’t the best plan. A coach of mine used to always say, “There Is no ‘I’ in TEAM”. With that said, I like to remind students that their team interactions have the ability to lift spirits or completely flatten them. Students are reminded to think about how their words make someone feel. Do they help or do they hurt? AND, to remember . . . it’s just a game!
During each PE class, students begin with an instant activity that lasts from two to five minutes. That activity could be fitness endurance such as walking and jogging, or skill building like throwing and catching or other forms of ball manipulation as a prerequisite for the skill building game. Then we stretch to develop flexibility and recognize our various muscle groups. Next, I introduce the game and review the rules. I remind the students before they create their teams how dependent the game is on cooperation and strategy skills.
At various times and always at the end of the game, I stop the children to evaluate and share what strategies are working, which ones are not, and why. Students feel good about sharing their insightful thinking and successes, and reflect on the obstacles that forced them to adjust their approach in the game.
Before the students are dismissed, I ask them to reflect on what kind of class they think they had. Some children voice out loud, some tap the image on the wall and others quietly reflect. This reflection engages the students to think about their behavior and efforts in class. The students are not only reflecting on their physical skills, but also on their responsibilities as a student to listen, participate, work within a team, have a positive attitude/sportsmanship, and to be respectful to their peers and school materials.
Together we’ve learned that when students have a steady routine, there is less time sitting or standing around in the gym, and all the students become engaged . . . even ones who would typically avoid being involved. It’s okay if some students don’t love PE, but I hope they all like it, have fun and are motivated to be more active.