Exercising Bodies as Well as Minds

How much exercise do children get in school? As schools have focused on core academic subjects and on testing, have recesses and physical education classes been cut back, or cut altogether? How have tightening budgets in school districts across the country affected school-day exercise? How do the practices in my school district or in my state compare to those in other parts of the country?

These questions and more are answered in a hefty report, The Shape of the Nation, published last year by the National Association for Sport and Physical Education in partnership with the American Heart Association. I learned about the report from a New York Times article that profiled the efforts of several New York City public schools to get their students to exercise. One P.E. teacher applied for grant money to change a storage closet into an exercise room. In another school, students take quick breaks from math problems for calisthenics. The article also noted, however, that not one of 31 elementary schools audited recently by the city was meeting minimum requirements for physical education.

The good news, nationally, is that more states mandated physical education for their students in 2010 than in 2006. But only six states — among them Massachusetts, New York, and Vermont — require physical education from kindergarten through high school. (New Jersey and Rhode Island require it starting in first grade.) I learned that New Hampshire, where we live, does not mandate daily recess for elementary school students, and was grateful that the school Ursula and Virgil attend schedules twice-daily outdoor breaks anyway.

We’ve learned in recent years how much recess and physical activity matter to children. It shouldn’t surprise anyone to learn that exercising regularly during a school week improves performance in the classroom and school attendance. In these difficult times, however, children are going to have to rely on the creativity of teachers, parents, administrators, and others. One example from the New York Times article: An elementary school teamed up with the New York Road Runners Club to create a challenge — students would earn the school a book for each mile they ran. At the end of the year, they’d earned 250 books. That’s what I call a win-win situation.

Learn more

- Follow the link in the New York Times article to the “Shape of the Nation” report.
- The New York Road Runners Club is hosting a Youth Jamboree on Sunday, October 23. The jamboree includes running, jumping, and throwing events and is open to all children in kindergarten through 8th grade and their families. No experience is necessary.

Great Kids, Great Outdoors” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Kristen Laine.

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