I have always believed in the importance of physical education. Movement has been an integral part of my own life since I was a child. As I grew up, went to school, tried to figure out my life (still working on that) and eventually settled on a career in education, physical education was always at the forefront. 2013 marks my 20th year as a physical education teacher and after nine career “adjustments” (new positions, new schools, new degrees) over this time span, two constants have emerged: physical education and working with children and youth. Despite this long term committed relationship with PE it is only very recently that I have made the leap from thinking PE is important to a fundamental belief in the absolute, critical, elemental, life-changing and life-giving need for human movement.
Currently, the two most common arguments shared for increasing daily physical activity and advocating for more physical education include benefits to health and academic performance. Here’s a quick overview:
- Health Benefits: physical activity: is the #1 treatment for fatigue; decreases anxiety by 48%; decreases diabetes by 50%; decreases knee arthritis by 47%; decreases depression by 47% (these stats are from Dr. Mike Evan’s brilliant video entitled 23 ½ hours – there are many, many more stats like this!).
- Academic Benefits: a research brief summarizing the relationship between physical education, activity and academic performance includes these findings: reducing PE time to increase classroom time does not improve academics; increasing PE can lead to improved grades; active kids tend to perform better academically; activity breaks improve cognition and behavior.
Awesome. The more ammunition we have to advocate for quality physical education the better. These are all valid reasons that should not (although often they are…) be ignored.
There is, however, one problem. A BIG PROBLEM. When all the focus is on extrinsic or functional rationale we miss two very important aspects of movement itself.
Aspect #1: Movement for the sake of Movement! Movement can stand on it’s own – it has inherent worth and efficacy all by its lonesome. Consider this quote:
People perceive in order to move and move in order to perceive. What, then, is movement but a form of perception, a way of knowing the world as well as acting on it? (Thelen, 1995)
Movement is essential to who we are as human beings and is absolutely critical to growth and development across the lifespan. For example: infants who averaged 41 days of creeping experience were more likely to avoid a “visual cliff” (plexi-glass covered drop-off) than infants with 11 days of experience (Witherington, et al., 2005). At the other end of the spectrum, women over 80 years old who participated in a targeted exercise program (strength and balance) had significantly less falls than the 80 year-old women who did not (Campbell, et al., 1999). The health and academic benefits are a great bonus, but are really just an extension of how movement is part of our human identity and helps us negotiate the treacherous terrain of life. Therefore, education should not be considered “whole-child” unless it includes education of the physical.
Aspect #2: The Intrinsic Joy of Movement I was fortunate to be boarding in the Rockies on a day where a foot of fresh powder had just fallen. As one of the first people up the lift, it was awesome to hear – from all across the mountain – spontaneous cries of joy from those reveling in the snow. We need this joy! As Scott Kretchmar writes:
When movement is experienced as joy, it adorns our lives, makes our days go better, and gives us something to look forward to. When movement is joyful and meaningful, it may even inspire us to do things we never thought possible (2008)
Imagine the two kids (mine) in the picture at the beginning of this blog having the following conversation:
“So, I was thinking of increasing my cardiovascular fitness by paddling these buoyant tools in the ocean.” “Great! I’ll join you, I need to work on my core strength anyways.” “Yup – lookin’ to reduce my co-morbidity” “You got that right – I don’t wanna get diabetes.”
Bwahahahahahaha! I know it sounds funny to say it out loud, but this is often how we treat movement and physical education. The fact is, kids (and adults!) are motivated by joy and will work / play extremely hard to find it. As a bonus, they’ll also get all the health and academic benefits. If you want to see an example of this ethic in action, go visit a skate park. There you’ll see people finding joy in learning, intrinsic motivation at it’s best and not a trophy or rubric in sight (you’ll also most likely see me laying at the bottom of the half-pipe after attempting to ride the wall…).
Want to advocate for physical education? Want healthier kids and a less sedentary society? Become a spokesperson and model for the inherent worth of movement itself. Be a joy-seeker and find ways to allow others to find their joy through movement as well. As for me, I am off to the skate park!
This post was done as a guest blog for ParticiPACTION.