Playing the field

Phys-ed provides more than just exercise—it teaches life skills

When his class hasn’t had a chance to run outside for at least 20 minutes in the morning, fourth-grade teacher Don Collins can tell. He can see it in the behavior of his students—especially the boys, he said—and the level of engagement and cooperation in learning.

“It’s essential for classroom management and the health of the kids—and myself,” Collins said of physical education. Collins has taught elementary school in the Chico Unified School District for 10 years, this being his third at Rosedale. Not much has changed in the past decade when it comes to physical education, he said.

While a P.E. specialist comes into elementary-school classes once every three weeks for 65 minutes, the rest of time gym class is left up to individual teachers. The state requires that kids get 100 minutes a week of physical education, explained Joanne Parsley, CUSD’s director of educational services.

“I think it’s highly important,” Parsley said, explaining that when she taught sixth grade at Chapman Elementary, she often took her class out for more than the required 100 minutes each week.

“It’s the only thing we’re actually mandated to do,” explained Collins. “We have to sign papers saying we do 100 minutes a week.”

Parsley concurred, adding that just this summer the CUSD Board of Trustees voted on a new school wellness policy that includes guidelines for teaching physical education as well as nutrition. In fact, starting next school year (2012-13), teachers will be required to incorporate nutrition into their lessons.

In the meantime, while the focus, when it comes to physical education, is often on getting kids off their butts and out on the fields, running and playing and being kids, Collins emphasized that physical activity, while a worthy goal, is not the only one.

“It’s crucial. Besides the physical benefits—cardio, etc.—there are so many other benefits like team building, focusing on a goal, skill building, problem-solving, getting over frustration,” Collins said. “They learn so many good things that we all benefit from.”

The way Collins runs his classroom is completely up to him. So, when he decides to incorporate 20 minutes of P.E. in the morning before math class, that’s his choice. Other teachers might decide to offer P.E. in the afternoon, or every other day. In addition to that physical activity, the kids get two recess periods a day, Collins said, which is more for free play than organized sports.

The biggest obstacle Collins sees in his path to teaching physical education is the availability of equipment that would enhance his ability to teach his kids. He looks to Chico Junior High—where his son is a student—as an example of how P.E. could be incorporated in a more natural way. Students in junior high have an actual class devoted to P.E., in which they receive a grade. So there’s a P.E. specialist on campus regularly, rather than just once every few weeks.

“They have more resources and are able to be more focused on what they’re going to do,” Collins said of the P.E. specialists, who offer units on different sports and are able to bring in the equipment necessary for those sports. “I’m a classroom teacher. I might want the kids to play volleyball, but we don’t have any volleyball nets.”

Collins, who happens to be a soccer coach in his free time, often has his classes play soccer. When that’s not engaging for enough students, he’ll switch up the game and make it three-ball soccer, to get more kids actively moving and playing at the same time. He also likes to play ultimate Frisbee, softball, basketball and a form of dodgeball called Doctor Doctor.

“I try to pick one main sport per trimester, so if soccer is our main focus, we might play it three times a week, and the other two times we do something else, like three-ball soccer,” he said. “The philosophy is, we play for fun. We’re doing it because it’s fun and healthy. And the most important part of game is the people involved.”