Physical education is an often overlooked educational opportunity for homeschoolers. A physical education program serves the dual purpose of providing physical fitness for the child and fostering healthy habits that persist into adulthood. In the interest of educating the whole child, homeschooling families may want to add physical education to their curriculum.
While physical activity is a component of physical education, physical education encompasses a broader spectrum. The National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE) breaks this down into six standards: motor skills, knowledge, physical activity, physical fitness, teamwork and sportsmanship, and a desire to be physically active. These standards help break up the ultimate goal of physical fitness into manageable tasks.
The homeschooling parent has many options for physical education. Whatever option parents choose, a comprehensive program will include regular physical activity, monitoring, and health education. Physical activity provides the foundation for physical education.
For those who want a structured physical education program, there are many published curricula, but many parents are content to simply allow their children ample time to play. Play is the best physical conditioner for all young animals-humans included-and is essential for normal physical, emotional, and cognitive growth. This specifically applies to free play, which is unstructured and dependent on imagination.
Let children play outdoors as much as possible. Provide them with plenty of suitable outdoor toys like balls, Frisbees, jump ropes, etc. Take them to the park and encourage them to play on the monkey bars swinging, climbing, and hanging. Tag, hide and seek, and even wrestling allow children to work major muscle groups and get a cardiovascular workout.
When the weather is not conducive to outdoor play, dancing, calisthenics, exercise videos, yoga, and bodyweight bearing activities can be used for physical activities. Whether indoors or out, young children need at least 150 minutes a week of this type of active play. As they get older, their physical play can become more structured.
Children will be ready for organized sports at different ages. Some cooperate as young as three, but some need more time to mature. This is an optimal time to teach them team sports like soccer, softball, and basketball. Children are naturally competitive so this is also the time to teach them about sportsmanship and teamwork.
Many sports are available for school-aged children including soccer, soft-ball, basketball, football, and more. Sports programs may be available through independent clubs, city recreation centers, churches, and some schools allow homeschooled children to participate in sports. Team sports offer the additional opportunity for homeschooled children to make new friends and learn to work within larger groups.
Homeschooling families may enjoy physical education co-ops which have many of the benefits of organized recreational sports, but without the cost, travel, and scheduling conflicts. Co-ops spread the burden of planning among many shoulders as well as increase the number of children who can participate together.
Monitoring physical fitness is a good idea for homeschooled children. A fitness test, such as the Presidential Fitness Test, can be used for both evaluation and goal setting. Understanding a child’s strengths and weaknesses can help a parent tailor a physical fitness program to a child’s individual needs. Using benchmarks as goals, complete with awards and recognition, give a child something to work toward and a tangible method to chart progress.
Physical education should also include age-appropriate health education. Children should learn about nutrition, how the body works, growing up, safety, staying healthy, injuries and illnesses, health problems of adults, and how to get information and help.
Let your children teach you. Pay attention to what types of activities they enjoy and encourage them. If there are activities they don’t enjoy, don’t force the issue. Come back to them after some time has passed and seek new ways to introduce them. Encourage the activities your child does enjoy. Remember, your goal is to foster healthy habits for life.