Gym has actually never been my forte. I always preferred (and still do) writing a research paper to playing a game of basketball. As a middle school teacher, though, I see the strong need for kids to be exposed to much more gym time than they are actually getting. At my school, middle schoolers get two 45-minute periods of gym a week. Of course, that also includes time to change and hear directions from the teacher, so the actual physical time is quite limited.
With more focus on academics, especially math and language arts, less and less time is being devoted to exercise. Does this make sense? Not to me. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), children and adolescents should be getting at least 1 hour of physical exercise per day. It’s fair to say that kids are not getting this time during the school day. Unfortunately, if they don’t, for some it’s unlikely they will get it at all! More than ever kids are bogged down with after school responsibilities and homework. If health and exercise are so important (and they truly are), it’s time we emphasize their importance by placing them back within the school day.
Kids also learn valuable team-building skills in gym. It’s not just a physical time but a place where kids learn critical social skills, such as sharing, taking turns, being a “good sport, working together, and even losing. They learn to go outside their comfort zones and take risks. Even the kids who don’t absolutely love soccer or basketball learn to work together as a team to accomplish a group goal.
For some kids, gym is the biggest place they excel. Educators need to foster and encourage that. Although I have no experience at doing well at any sports at all, I know from my own students that there is no feeling like being the star at a basketball or soccer game. Doing well with athletics can really help boost the self-esteems of the kids who need it the most. Did you know that drop out rates are lower for kids who participate in school sports? It makes so much sense, considering the level of school connectedness that sports and activities can foster. With increased gym time during the day, it’s possible that the same can be true even for those who don’t participate in sports outside the school day.
The final glaring reason to increase activity time for kids is that exercise positively impacts kids’ cognitive skills and academic behaviors. According to the CDC, more exercise for kids correlates with increased concentration, attention, and improved class behavior. With increased oxygen to the brain and increased neurotransmitters in the brain, the areas of the brain responsible for memory and higher level thinking just perform better. Some studies even indicate that more gym time leads to better grades and test scores.
So, yes, increased gym time during the school day will mean a little bit less time designated for reading, writing and math. However, the positives for making such a change will greatly outweigh the negatives. When possible, encourage extra exercise during the school day and let your school community know that gym is important for kids. Your students will be grateful and your classroom will be a better place for it.