What is your first thought when you hear P.E.? It might be a time in elementary school when you played endless games of kickball. Or, perhaps, you are taken back to the moment when you ran the dreaded mile-run/shuttle run in middle school. For me, personally, I distinctly remember a time in elementary school when I was the last one standing during a game of dodgeball!
Our recollections and experiences of the P.E. we participated in as children should be different than what our children experience today, as P.E. has intentionally been developed throughout the last several decades. This article attempts not only to reveal the classical approach to P.E. but also how this classical approach aligns with recent research regarding P.E.’s benefits.
At Clapham School, we champion the education of the whole child. This not only means that we educate both the mind and the body of a child, but it also means that we believe there is a connection between the two. In other words, while training the physical body mechanics of a child, you can simultaneously train her/his mind. Kevin Clark and Ravi Scott Jain assert this idea in their book The Liberal Arts Tradition.
“Education is not merely an intellectual affair, no matter how intellect-centered it must be, because human beings are not merely minds. As creatures made in God’s image, we are composite beings—unions of soul and body.”
If you think this isn’t true, try reading this blog post slouched in a chair or with a nagging headache—I’m guessing you won’t retain much from it! This is because the physical and mental discipline and the focus required for physical training has implications for the discipline and focus required for academic training.
Therefore, the classical approach to Physical Education for Clapham School is knowing of this union and training students in virtues such as physical self-control that will doubly serve them well on the athletic and classroom playing field.
This aligns seamlessly with what researchers are discovering. That is, the classical approach to P.E.—training a child’s physical body while knowing its implications to his/her mind—is proving academic benefits. For example, John J. Ratey M.D., Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, has written voluminously on this connection from his research. In his book, Spark!: How Exercise Will Improve the Performance of Your Brain, Ratey argues,
“exercise provides an unparalleled stimulus, creating an environment in which the brain is ready, willing, and able to learn.”
In other words, Ratey demonstrates through his research that if you want students to have better reading and math scores, then have them participate in an intensive P.E. class before doing their academic work.
Ratey’s research can be coupled with a University of Illinois study led by Dr. Chuck Hillman, which reveals that as little as 20 minutes of exercise a day can lead to better cognition and memory skills. Dr. Hillman performed an MRI scan of 9 and 10-year-olds who participated in aerobic exercise before taking an exam compared to those who did not exercise before taking an exam. Dr. Hillman’s research not only showed those who exercised before taking the exam performed better, but also that their ‘executive control’ function of the brain was more active.
So, what does all this mean? Well, whether researchers want to hold out on saying that exercise before academic work causes better rates of retention is still up for debate. Regardless, there can be no denying that there is certainly correlation. Therefore, there is a strong connection between physical training and mental aptitude. In P.E. class students are trained not only in their physical habits with intent to help their academic endeavors, but also through vigorous physical exercises, students are prepared well to succeed in their academic work.
This is especially important now as students are experiencing extending periods of inactivity sitting in front of a screen. While knowing full well of the benefits of P.E., let’s inspire, encourage, and galvanize our students to be active in their learning. These can be done in several different ways. For example, between each academic lesson have your student complete a series of 10 burpees, 15 air-jumps, and 20 push-ups (scale it appropriately to your child). Or, perhaps, have your child run up and down the street before a day of learning for 20 minutes. Either way, be creative!
The important thing is that our children (and I am sure you are realizing this during the COVID social distancing experiment if you haven’t already 😊) need to be active. Let’s not undervalue or forget about P.E.!