By Kim Jaworski, Homeschool Resource Specialist
The goal of physical education is to teach kids about exercise and activity as part of a healthy lifestyle. It’s also about exposing them to a variety of activities and games that might lead to hobbies or just fun with friends and family. And it’s about trying new things. With this in mind you, might want to make a list of the things you want to cover with your children over their years with phy-ed. Your list might include: soccer, baseball, kayaking, rock climbing, fencing, ballroom dancing, horseback riding, hiking, swimming, sailing, archery, martial arts, tennis, badminton (which doesn’t get the respect it deserves despite being an Olympic sport), table tennis and gymnastics. During an Olympic year, you might try various Olympic events, and be sure to try the seasonal activities as you have the opportunity as well (sledding, tubing, skiing, skating, golf, biking, waterskiing, etc). Whatever activities are important to your family and your interests are fine. There’s no required list or comprehensive list to work from, so just build your own. Personally, I made swimming lessons non-negotiable. I wanted my sons to be safe around water and have a respect for the risks of undertow and currents. The rest were just on my reference list and most of the time I let the kids choose. The agreement was to learn the basics, the rules of the game and the skills required. If a child expressed a deeper interest, we would certainly pursue it, but in most cases, we moved on to the next idea.
We would consult the class offerings from Community Education (our area and surrounding communities), Parks and Rec, the local YMCA or Community Center, and any other source I could find, and I’d have the boys choose an activity to try. If you don’t find much through your local options, don’t be afraid to request an offering. We couldn’t make the schedule work for a Tae Kwon Do class through community education, but I always called and let them know we were interested if it would be offered again and that the timing just didn’t work for us that semester. I also asked if they would offer “family” classes, which they balked at for a couple class cycles. Then they offered a Family Tennis class and had so many people sign up they had to add 4 extra sections of the class. From then on, there was usually a “Family” option for classes like Pottery, fencing, or any other introductory activity. As it turned out, we weren’t big into team sports but tried many things that could be enjoyed alone or in a small group. And we aren’t terribly competitive. We were just in it for the fun and to better our personal best if we could.
If you don’t find many offerings in your area, or you’d prefer to keep costs to a minimum, explore the world of online video instruction. You can learn the basics of just about anything online. Your library will also have instructional videos and books. This is an especially helpful option if you have a child who gets anxious about new things. Try the video and home practice before taking a class with others and you can minimize the feelings of self-consciousness.
You shouldn’t have to invest a big chunk of change just to learn about a sport or activity and try out some basic moves. And if an activity requires “gear” first check around and see if it can be borrowed or rented somewhere or purchased inexpensively at a thrift store or garage sale. We found handball rackets, tennis rackets, a volley ball net, badminton set, soccer balls, basket balls and dodge balls through these second-hand options. Play It Again Sports or similar second hand shops are another resource for whatever you may need, but they will have higher price tags. Even Pawn America will have stuff to browse. So be on the look out.
Just a little side note here. For years we had the Christmas tradition that each kid got 3 gifts from us. Something old, something new and something to look forward to. And they were opened in that order and tagged accordingly. The ‘something old’ might be something we found especially for them from a second-hand source (we LOVE second hand shopping and garage sales) or a hand me down from an older cousin or sibling. The ‘something new’ was something purchased just for them. And the ‘something to look forward to’ could be equipment for an upcoming class (riding shoes for horseback riding lessons or a tennis racket that couldn’t be used until summer for tennis lessons) or tickets to an upcoming play, or a new swim suit for summer. Another variation of this was introduced as a Christmas tradition with my great-nieces. They find a short stack of gifts from me tagged: Something you can make or do, Something I made just for you, and Something to look forward to. The first year, the gifts were a craft kit, a hand-knitted scarf to match their new winter coats from mom & dad, and giant sunflower seeds to plant in their garden in the spring along with kid sized hand tools for helping in the garden. They loved it.
Ok, back to phy-ed. Get a few families together and play kickball or dodge ball on a weekend. Kids LOVE to play ‘kids vs the parents’. Dodgeball works great in a tennis court. The net keeps each team on their own side, and the fence keeps the balls from going too far astray. Family volleyball can be played with a beach ball instead of the traditional ball, and then all ages can join in. We have even played with a large balloon.
Be sure to talk about the fact that while our culture seems to hyper focus on the very top athletes in a sport, lots of people enjoy sports at a recreational level to have fun with friends and be active. Kids often get the message that if you aren’t dominating the sport, it’s not your thing and you shouldn’t bother. Not everything has to be that competitive. In fact, most things don’t have to be competitive at all. You can further emphasize this by picking up a goofy little trophy that gets passed around the family when you try a new activity. After your first time or 2, the family votes to award the trophy to the family member who really learned the most from the experience. Not necessarily who performed the best, but maybe worked the hardest to master something new, finally let go of the training wheels or overcame some anxiety about heights to try the rock climbing wall. An “outstanding effort” award is always nice recognition.
And don’t forget to take pictures as you travel your phy-ed journey! You’ll want documentation for your portfolios (see my article on portfolios!)