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A Kinder, Gentler Gym Class is Here

Laura E. Saponara serves as a Senior Communications Consultant for Kaiser Permanente Community Benefit.

Good news for those of us who are determined to pave the way for generations of lifelong movers: physical education (PE) class is becoming kinder. According to a recent article in the Washington Post, “the new PE is a nicer PE.” Some of us recall the days when PE was a forum for the fittest kids to thrive, while the less physically inclined learned to tolerate frustration or worse, humiliation. There is evidence of transformation afoot.


Reporter Michael Alison Chandler writes that some school districts and professional associations of physical educators are shifting toward curriculum that draws on a wide range of skills, abilities and sensibilities. In some regions, rock climbing, fly fishing, archery and yoga are in. So are personal fitness plans and target heart rate zones. In every state, the President’s Physical Fitness Test (which always felt to this writer like a Cold War idea) is out. The new emphasis is on personal improvement rather than competition against others.

“The country depends on us to do something different than what we have been doing,” said Dolly Lambdin, president of the Society of Health and Physical Educators (SHAPE). “We cared too much about who is the best, who can do the most push-ups, and not nearly enough about what it means to be healthy and physically active for a lifetime.”

If you thrived in PE and your love of dodge ball has never waned, you need not feel threatened. No one is advocating for the death of dodge ball.

But if there is in fact a national shift toward PE that appeals to more kids, and if the new PE makes physical activity more likeable, more social and more fun, we may see more children building physical activity into their lives for good. That vision dovetails nicely with the efforts of so many who are succeeding in raising awareness of the health benefits of walking, biking, making the most of recess and many other shifts within reach.

According to a new report from the University of Michigan, 61 percent of adults who work and volunteer with children see lots of opportunities for kids to get physical activity. That perception has expanded, up from 56 percent in 2012. If it’s accurate, the PE revolution may help more children to make the most of the opportunities before them.

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