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The Elements of Strong K-12 Physical Education Curriculum


Physical education is an academic subject area that positively impacts student’s physical, mental, social and emotional health as well as encourages students to be active and fit for life, according to a report from the Society of Health and Physical Educators of America. They also noted that quality physical education programs provide learning opportunities, appropriate instruction, meaningful and challenging content, and student and program assessment.

If you have a passion for improving the health and wellness of your students, then Northwest Missouri State University's Master of Science in Education (MSEd.) in Physical Education and Health online program helps prepare graduates to make a difference in students' lives through innovative practices in physical education. 

How Does Physical Activity Benefit Children?

PE is sometimes considered an "extra," or not a necessary component of youth education. But like other academic subjects, PE is essential for students' short- and long-term success. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the benefits of regular physical activity for children and adolescents include:

  • higher levels of fitness
  • lower body fat
  • stronger muscles and bones
  • improved academic performance, memory and other cognitive functioning
  • reduced depression symptoms

The benefits of regular physical activity continue into adulthood. The CDC reports that regular physical activity in childhood can put individuals at a lower risk of heart disease, obesity and type 2 diabetes and improve mental health. Additionally, PE allows students to collaborate and play with students of diverse backgrounds, abilities and skills.

What Is a High-Quality K-12 PE Program?

A successful PE program begins with guidelines for physical activity. Federal Physical Activity Guidelines for All Americans recommend the following for children ages 6 to 17 years old:

  • At least 60 minutes of "moderate-to-vigorous" aerobic physical activity daily, such as running, dancing, jumping rope and bicycling
  • Bone- and muscle-strengthening activities should be a part of daily physical activity at least three days a week; examples include playing on playground equipment and yoga (muscles) and running and jumping rope (bones)

Activities can meet the recommendations for more than one category. For example, running and jumping rope are aerobic activities that also strengthen bones.

Schools are a natural place for kids to get the recommended daily activity. Time spent being active in PE promotes healthy habits through a combination of direct instruction and movement. A game of four square before school and unstructured play at recess also benefit youth well-being.

As for other academic subjects, a strong PE curriculum addresses the three domains of learning:

  1. Cognitive: This relates to content information and knowledge, such as understanding the link between physical activity and long-term health
  2. Affective: This relates to feelings and attitudes, such as communicating positively with players on a team
  3. Psychomotor: This relates to physical skills, such as dribbling techniques in basketball

State and national standards identify what students should know and be able to do in an academic subject. For PE, many states and school districts use SHAPE America's National Physical Education Standards. SHAPE America describes a well-developed, standards-based physical activity curriculum as including:

  • PE standards
  • Learning objectives
  • Sequence of units and lessons, with students engaged in "moderate to vigorous" physical activity at least 50% of class time
  • Student assignments and projects
  • List of books and materials to support learning goals
  • Assessments to measure student learning

If planning a year of PE sounds like an undertaking, you will be happy to hear that SHAPE America offers a wealth of resources, including free, standards-based K-12 curricula. The bicycle-safety curriculum called Bikeology, for example, includes lessons, assessments and a guide to support connections at home. A Jr. NBA curriculum comes with a chance to win a visit from an NBA player/legend.

A sampling of other SHAPE America resources, all designed to support high-quality PE programs, include:

  • Unified Physical Education course (brings students with and without disabilities together through education and activities that promote an inclusive environment)
  • Standards-based SEL (social-emotional learning) lessons for PE programs
  • Mind & body physical activity calendars 
  • Free webinars, such as "The Why — A Look at How the Brain Deals with Stress"
  • Lessons on topics such as FITT, folk dance, dribbling, passing and catching

Resources like this and advanced education programs in physical education help today's PE professionals can create quality programs that motivate positive attitudes toward physical activity and health for a lifetime. Imagine leading a PE program with students answering the question "How do you feel about PE?" with an enthusiastic "Love it!"

Learn more about Northwest Missouri State University's online M.Ed. in Education in Health and Physical Education program.


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