What is your son doing in his gym class? Are he and his classmates running around, learning sports and playing games? And are they reviewing vocabulary words and math concepts as they play? Some schools in the 45 states which have adopted more rigorous English and Math standards are bringing this intensified curriculum into gym class as well. In a West Palm Beach Florida classroom profiled in a recent New York Times article found here, the gym teacher had her students counting by fours during their exercise routine, running math based relay games, and learning vocabulary words as they did push ups. In Chesapeake, VA, students count in other languages as they do their exercises. D.C. schools have added health and fitness questions to their year-end standardized test. The push to add an academic component to gym class isn’t solely born of a need to ramp up the rigor. Schools claim that making the class more academic justifies keeping gym class at a time when non academic courses (like art and music) are disappearing from the curriculum to make room for additional core coursework.

But some schools are resisting adding this academic element to gym class, believing that the national focus on childhood obesity and the diminishing recess time in schools suggest that a gym class which focuses on physical activity is important to preserve. Moreover, studies have shown that regular physical exercise can help children to focus, concentrate and learn. Janis Andrews, the Palm Beach district chief academic officer, would agree, noting in the article: “Some children just learn better through more movement than they do sitting at a desk. Some kids are going to have that ‘aha’ moment not in the classroom, but the light bulb is going to finally go on outside.” Those of us with active boys would readily agree that they need and benefit from every possible opportunity to run around during their school day.

Some parent’s perspective on the importance of a “gym only” gym class will depend upon their own gym class experiences. If gym class for you meant the chance to finally race around and let off steam, or hone/show off your skills on the court or the field, then you may consider this concept of including academics both unnecessary and unwelcome. If you (like me) were more on the slow or uncoordinated side in school, and/or regularly the last chosen for any game or sport, perhaps the concept of learning something else during gym may sound like a more productive (and less discouraging) use of time.

GCP readers, what do you think? First of all, how much do you know about what goes on in your son’s (or daughter’s) p.e. class? Are their schools trying to incorporate academic instruction into the gym class, and if so, is it at the expense of the physical exercise? As the mother of athletic, active boys, but who certainly understands (from personal experience) that not every student falls into that category, I’d rather have gym time include more activities designed to make everyone enthusiastic about moving around and enjoying the process of getting physically fit (not just the budding athletes) rather than have the students solving math problems and learning vocabulary words during gym. Your thoughts?