Guest Post by Chris Colon
My name is Chris Colon and I teach physical education at Milliken Middle School in Colorado. I have learned how to be a quality physical educator from some of the most respected PE teachers in the nation.
Being a physical education teacher is easy, being a quality physical educator is a lot more complex. Most PE teachers will roll out a ball and tell their class to play whatever sport it is that day without any guidance at all. This is not a quality PE program. If your child’s PE teacher did this when they were in-person learning then they will do even less for online PE. In this post, I will talk about the changes being made from last Spring semester to the upcoming fall. I will also talk about the two main barriers to teaching PE at home. The most important thing a parent can do is to TALK to their child and to LISTEN to what they have to say.
What Really Matters
Teaching physical education at home can be a daunting task to think of. The most important thing a parent can do is to try and break this down into a more manageable task.
Instead of thinking about how your child will follow a traditional physical education program, think about what is important. For children, all a parent truly needs to think is how can I get my child moving, and how can I make it fun for them.
The ultimate goal of physical education is to help enhance children’s mental and physical health. When you think this way, the task at hand becomes much easier. You don’t need to think about having all the sporting equipment in the world. All you need to do is figure out what your child enjoys doing for movement and help facilitate them in partaking in those activities as much as possible.
Understanding What Went Wrong this Spring
During this last spring, I can honestly say that PE was challenging to begin with. Trying to figure out how I was going to take what I did every day in the gym and translate it to the students to do at home was very difficult. The switch came so quickly and without much guidance, it seemed impossible. No one had ever needed to prepare for a pandemic so we didn’t know what to do as a team. My team met every week for multiple hours each week to figure out how we were going to pull off the impossible.
We all think teaching PE properly is extremely important but that wasn’t really an option at that point.
As a team we agreed for the remainder of the school year it wasn’t about following the standards, it was about caring for the students and their needs at the time.
Mental Health & Physical Health
The uncertainty of everything was extremely challenging for all my students. Not to mention having to try to continue to learn their other classes’ content in a new environment was enough stress. I didn’t want to add to their plate so instead, I took the mental health route and thought about what we could provide to the students to help them cope with all that was going on. A lot of my zoom sessions were more about me asking how they were doing and figuring out what the hardest part of being a middle schooler was. Almost every student came back telling me that the hardest part was being away from all their friends and missing people in general.
I think when anyone thinks about teaching at home they need to talk to their children first and figure out how they are doing and then think about how you can help them feel better. That has to be the first step if you are going to try to engage them in being physically active.
The New Normal
The spring semester was treated more similarly to triage than it was about instructional teaching. There were fires to put out for everyone all over the place. Unfortunately, this made PE sit on the back burner. This was unfortunate but going forward I would like to hope that teachers have been preparing for this “new normal” for the past couple of months. My team and I have been thinking about how we can make online PE much more focused and improved for this upcoming year.
If your student’s physical education teacher hasn’t been planning, it will be very apparent. They will probably try to force your student into doing only a handful of mundane activities for the entire school year. The teacher will not have a variety and the students will burn out quickly. It is very easy to spot a teacher that hasn’t prepared for the upcoming future. If this sounds like what your child’s PE teacher is doing then I highly recommend you have your child follow a different PE program or create one yourself. I mentioned earlier that the end goal of PE is to enhance the student’s mental and emotional health.
As a parent homeschooling or guiding with online school, the easiest thing you can do to start is to ask your child what they enjoy to do for activity. It doesn’t need to look like a sport.
Traditional Sports vs A Broader Mindset
There are so many different ways to enhance health and wellness outside of sports. A lot of people do students a disservice by pigeonholing physical activity. Most think that being physically active as a child means you need to be signed up for traditional sports. I would love to ask these individuals what sport they still play as adults to remain physically active. I can guarantee that most no longer engage in traditional sports.
So if they can be active without playing sports I don’t see why children can’t be active without playing sports. Forcing traditional sports on a child when they don’t want to is a recipe for burn-out. While they might be healthy and active as a child because they were forced into sports, they will most likely end up not continuing to be physically active as adults.
When you’re at home helping your child with PE you have to make it fun. Making an activity fun leads to much higher adherence, especially for children. If you figure out how to do this then being physically active is quite easy. This means that you might need to work really hard and search many resources to look at different ideas to be physically active. There are a couple of Facebook pages for ideas on how to teach students PE at home. One very popular page is the “PE central” Facebook page. This page is filled with great ideas from all levels of physical educators. As a parent, you could also look at which teacher in your state won last year’s PE teacher of the year award and reach out to that person for some guidance.
Finding the Right Equipment
My curriculum this year will include a lot of individual activities that a student can do using at-home items. I realize that students don’t have access to all the equipment at home to partake in traditional PE so I have to be creative about what they can use. For instance; our juggling unit this semester will start by using sock balls to juggle. Once they master that then you can use safe household objects to advance the skill.
The equipment barrier is by far the most difficult. One thing you can do to help is to ask local sporting goods stores if they have anything they could spare. I know a lot of places are looking for ways they can help people during this pandemic so they may be kind enough to give some equipment away.
You could also see if your child’s PE teacher is willing to check equipment out. If you’re going to buy your child one piece of equipment I recommend a soccer ball. Soccer balls are a little more versatile than other equipment. Soccer balls are also more durable than other sporting equipment which helps so your student can use it anywhere without worrying about it getting damaged.
Another thing that parents should do is look around your neighborhood and figure out what places are still providing. If there is an outdoor volleyball net or basketball hoop that is still available to use then you better utilize this. It will make is a lot easier than trying to rig something up at your house.
Getting A Group Together Safely
The next main barrier I have found is that students don’t have enough people to do a lot of activities. It is crucial that you get the rest of the family involved if possible.
If there are reasons that make this impossible then maybe allow a small cohort of friends to get together. If you decide this is necessary make sure that you ask all the parents of the children if they are showing any symptoms and make sure that everyone is disinfected before they play.
Parent-Child Workout Ideas
If you are not comfortable with this and also can’t get the family involved then it gets a little more difficult. Try to figure out fun ways you at least can help your child. Go on walks with them or bike rides. Have your child try to teach you something from a game or sport they love. This is a great time to connect with your child. This also drastically helps improve their mental health and you might actually enjoy it also.
If you are still struggling with keeping your child active and engaged a great tool is to turn to at-home workouts.
At-home workouts can be really fun and engaging for the child, especially if you lean into it and do the workouts with them.
A great starting website is darebee.com. This website has a lot of free resources and does a great job of making fitness simple.
One of my favorite resources to use is the “GET KIDS MOVING” YouTube page. The creator, Glen Higgins, is a personal trainer and a health coach in the UK that creates so many awesome fitness videos using a green screen. Each video has a different theme. They have created fitness videos using popular movies for kids to help engage them in a workout.
If you do these workouts with your child they will be a lot more likely to be engaged as well. Have fun and laugh during workouts as well.
If you have any old cheesy VHS workout videos from the 80s use them!
I simply can’t state enough, the importance of making exercise fun for a child. They will be a lot more likely to continue to be physically active in their adult years if they enjoy being active as a child.
Importance of Variety
If your child does not have a quality physical education teacher then it is up to parents to introduce as many different ways to be physically active while at home. The more variety the more likely they are to find something fun and engaging for them.
At the end of the day PE is used in schools as an outlet for energy so students can be more focused when they return to classroom learning. At home it can be used in a similar way but also to try and keep the mind and body in a healthy state. Just 20 minutes of physical activity significantly boosts brain activity according to Dr. Charles Hillman from the University of Illinois. So get out and get your children moving to help enhance their brain power and their overall health!