History of physical education in schools

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Physical education didn't begin to be taught in schools in the United States until the 1800s, when gymnastics first formed part of some schools' curriculum. Today, physical education is compulsory in schools throughout the United States and is taught in schools worldwide.

The health benefits of physical education make it an essential part of any child's learning experience.


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Physical education originated thousands of years ago, in ancient Greece. In roughly 380 B.C., Plato mentioned physical education in "The Republic," stating that two types of education were necessary: educating the mind and educating the body. Gymnastics was the form of physical education taught in ancient Greece. Boys and young men were expected to practice gymnastics regularly, in the gymnasium situated in the centre of Athens. A healthy body was celebrated through the competitive gymnastics and races of the Olympic Games.


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The first teacher of physical education to appear in America was a German named Charles Beck. Physical education was taught by a select few in Germany in the late 1790s, and in the 1820s Beck decided to promote physical education across the world, travelling to France, Switzerland and eventually America. In 1825, Beck was hired by the Round Hill School in Northampton, Massachusetts, becoming the first official physical education teacher in the United States. The school contained a gymnasium, and Beck primarily taught German gymnastics.

Time Frame

From 1825 to the present, the form of physical education taught in schools has altered dramatically. Though gymnastics is still taught as part of physical education, it no longer forms a key part of the curriculum. Instead, exercise and sports are now the main focus. The current emphasis on overall health and fitness, and particularly physical stamina and endurance, stems from World War II, when 45 per cent of the first 2 million males drafted failed their physicals. Starting in 1941, physical education was given increased time, attention and priority in American schools.


Through increasing the opportunities for exercise, teaching the importance of regular physical activity for health and teaching skills that support physical activities, physical education makes students more likely to choose healthy and active lifestyles. Regular physical activity has been proven to benefit not only a student's physical well-being, but also his academic performance. Exercise improves circulation, increases blood flow to the brain and raises endorphin levels, all of which help to reduce stress, improve mood and attitude and increase concentration.


Physical education is part of the curriculum in schools throughout the United States, but this isn't enough to prevent rising numbers of obese and unhealthy children. This is partly due to the amount of physical education available. The National Association for Sport and Physical Education recommends that children be engaged in at least 60 minutes of physical activity on all or most days of the week. However, few schools have daily physical activity, and many have cut the length of recess in order to give children more time to study.