Children need at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day, according to the National Department of Health and Human Services. PE teaches balance, spatial/body awareness, cooperation, rhythm/creative movement and lifelong fitness. PE activities help children acquire and practice these and other physical skills. Because many schools have eliminated recess and restricted physical education to less than an hour per week, it is more important than ever that PE include lifelong leisure activities. Hiking, biking and swimming require little to no special equipment and can be enjoyed year-round.
Balance is one of the earliest skills children need to acquire. Balance affects the ability to walk, run and land safely after jumping. Correct balance leads to good body alignment, which ensures stability. Balance beam work, beginning with walking a line taped onto the floor, helps develop coordination. The child moves from the floor to a few inches off the floor, and finally to a full-height beam. Older children and teens can improve balance by using beginning t'ai chiposes. As they build muscle tone and balance, they will be able to perform increasingly complex poses.
Body and spatial awareness are what tells us where we are in relation to anything nearby. Children who are impulsive and invade the personal space of others benefit from spatial awareness activities. By defining a bubble of space around themselves, children learn when it is appropriate to enter the personal space of others and when it is not. Games that encourage group movement of one body part at a time foster spatial awareness. Holding arms extended at the shoulder, with fingertips not quite touching the person to the right and left is a common practice to teach children to stay out of the personal space of anyone nearby. Another common tactic is placing a hand on the shoulder of the person in front and taking one step back.
Cooperative games teach children to work together toward a common goal. Parachute games are excellent practice working as a team. Challenge courses also provide practice in cooperative problem solving. Challenge courses include such things as walking along beams, jumping from landing spot to landing spot, and assisting team members through a rope web in which each person must pass through a different opening.
Creative movement is the precursor to dance. Dance is a form of self-expression that uses the entire body to convey emotion, tell a story and provide a physical outlet for stress. Creative movement requires each child to reach into the musical piece and act out the elements of its form. Children learn body mechanics while teaching themselves to press against and past the limitations of their bodies, pushing themselves to reach, strive and achieve. Silly songs such as the Chicken Dance and the Hokey Pokey help children break through self-consciousness. If everyone looks silly together, no one needs to feel embarrassed.
Walking, hiking and swimming require little specialised equipment and can be done almost anywhere. Varying terrain and walking speed prevent boredom and help children avoid fitness plateaus. Swimming skills can be taught to children as young as six months, but most children should be at least 5 years old and stand at least three feet tall for formal lessons.
Always use landing pads under your balance beams. Landing pads should be progressively thicker and cover a greater area around and under the beam as the height of the beam is increased. Have both child and adult spotters and assistants available to prevent injury during physical challenges.
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