Physical Education is as Important as Ever in a Child’s Education

By Sammy Jacobs

“Gym class” has a certain connotation in the education world. Some view it as an elective or “special” subject area, like an organized recess where all you have to do is roll the balls out and let kids play. In a sense, yes, that is exactly the mission of physical education. But as a P.E. teacher heading into my fourth year of teaching, I’d argue it’s so much more. 

P.E. is a foundational subject that makes a person whole.

In modern education, especially in an urban setting where many students have historically lacked access to resources, there has been a big emphasis placed on a “data-driven curriculum” that can boost test scores. It’s the latest in a long line of fads that are part of a seemingly never-ending cycle. Unfortunately, many aspects of education are gutted along the way. Physical education programs are often a target because they carry a stigma that they are expendable.

P.E. teaches children important locomotor skills, such as running, hopping, skipping, throwing, catching, striking, and kicking, among others. These skills are critical to the development of the human body. I don’t expect my students to become professional athletes, but I do expect them to leave my class with the skills needed to live a long, healthy life.

Teaching P.E. has its obstacles, especially in schools that don’t have the necessary equipment, space, or time, but despite that,  the mission stays the same: Teach children fundamental motor skills and knowledge to live a healthy and active life. Yet, in my experience, it’s a mission that most people overlook or just do not understand. 

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that “children and adolescents ages 6 through 17 years should do 60 minutes (1 hour) or more of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity daily.” 

Those activities are broken down into three categories that are recommended to occur at least three days per week: aerobic, muscle-strengthening, and bone-strengthening.

There are other benefits to physical activity that tie into the academic side of education. Studies from Michigan State University and the University of Illinois showed how exercise and physical activity could improve students’ behavior and attention to tasks, even in students with certain attention-related disorders. These results are promising and also indicate the behavioral and mental health benefits of physical education.

Proof that physical education and activity are important is right in front of our faces, but school systems are still favoring test preparation at the expense of P.E. programs and recess. Physical Education is the forgotten pillar of the school experience, and its impact is far greater than how many times a student can throw a ball through a hoop.

Sammy Jacobs is a Physical Education and Health teacher at Tindley Summit Academy in Indianapolis.