If state mandates more P.E., schools should also ensure that the activities are fun - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

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If state mandates more P.E., schools should also ensure that the activities are fun

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Posted: Thursday, December 15, 2005 10:02 pm

Comics have lampooned grade-school physical education class — the rope climb being the most infamous subject — so much over the years it’s often hard to separate the dark humor from the hard facts.

Yet those facts are grim ones about growing child obesity, which has several causes. We know the effects: The Tribune’s Mary K. Reinhart, reporting Thursday on the National Governors’ Association meeting in Phoenix this week, wrote that nearly 60 percent of Arizona adults are overweight or obese, one-fourth of high schoolers are at risk of being overweight and 20 percent of Arizonans report that they engage in no physical activity.

One way to combat these harsh realities: More required P.E. classes, which will increase children’s physical activity and help them shed extra pounds and build and maintain healthy bodies.

As Capitol Media Services reported in Thursday’s Tribune, a state panel of educators, lawmakers, health professionals and parents is recommending that Arizona public schools require mandatory physical-education classes of all kindergartners through eighth-graders.

Such a mandate is welcome in this age of too-available snack foods and video games featuring other people playing sports. But mandates are one thing, fulfillment of them another. If state officials adapt this worthy requirement, they should also recommend that teachers offer P.E. in ways that are more engaging, more doable — and more likely to become a lifelong habit.

There’s no reason why more P.E. teachers cannot adopt quite effective approaches — now being taken up in many East Valley schools — that colleagues teaching other subjects employ. We refer, of course, to fun.

Regrettably, P.E. suffers from about as bad a reputation in society as does math class. Today’s parents are passing on some of this scary mythology to their children based on their own humiliating experiences at the hands of hard-line teachers barking like Marine sergeants at them to perform military-style exercises to the unrestrained taunts of more athletically inclined classmates.

Today many teachers are employing more effective techniques to help children develop healthy exercise habits through activities they enjoy, such as roller skating.

These approaches may not have the sadistic ring of, “Drop and give me 50,” or, “OK, everyone run another mile,” that we may remember from our own childhoods. But they likely will have much more long-lasting effects toward keeping today’s children from becoming too sedentary and thus too heavy, finding themselves someday at the end of their own ropes.

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