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A program for kids: success-oriented physical education.

Creating a successful learning environment is a challenging task for all educators. Children should have opportunities to experience success not only in the classroom setting, but also in the physical education setting. The Council on Physical Education for Children (COPEC) recently acknowledged that regular and appropriate physical activity is more crucial for children than ever before. COPEC (1992) describes a quality physical education program as both developmentally and instructionally suitable for the particular children being served.

Children do not automatically develop skills, positive attitudes and behaviors that lead to enjoyment and success in physical activity. Therefore, it is the responsibility of educators to create an environment that allows for a successful physical education program and to attempt to match the learner's needs and desires with those of the teacher.

Physical education programs have traditionally been designed to meet objectives established by experts in the field of elementary physical education curriculum. While these are important goals, instructors often do not account for children's needs when developing curriculum objectives. For example, Coakley (1990) indicated that children in informal play settings want personal involvement, action and an opportunity to reaffirm friendships. Researchers in the area of organized sport for children (Martens, 1978; Orlick & Botterill, 1975) suggest that the main reasons children participate in organized physical activity are to have fun and learn skills. Without an aura of fun, children will most likely not participate. Thus, it appears that elementary physical educators and classroom educators need to take cues from experts in organized sports for children when implementing elementary physical education programs.

COPEC identified many interrelated components as critical to a total physical education program. The authors specifically address motor skill development and movement concepts, affective or social-emotional development and physical fitness development. Creating a successful physical education environment, as perceived by both student and teacher, is vital for the success of a quality physical education program.


Physical education is integral to a child's elementary instructional program. It is the only area of the curriculum in which motor skills and human movement are emphasized, along with an opportunity to facilitate their development (Nichols, 1990). A developmentally sound physical education program can enhance physical fitness, promote a healthy lifestyle, give children a positive self-image and help children acquire the motor skills needed to achieve satisfaction as contributing members of society (Nichols, 1990; Pangrazi & Dauer, 1992).

Motor Skill/Movement Concept Development

Dear Diary:

Today all of the 4th-grade class ran relay races. I was so afraid that I would drop the baton when it was passed to me! I started sweating a lot and my stomach felt real funny...I know that my team was wanting to win real bad...and I was afraid that I would let them dawn. If only we could have practiced more....

Acquiring motor skills and movement concepts is a key objective in an elementary physical education program. Too often, however, children participate in games well before they are prepared. Many physical education classes consist of merely playing games or entering children into competitive situations without prior opportunity to develop the necessary basic concepts and motor skills. Even when children have practiced motor skills, the actual game situations restrict application of those skills by all but the most highly skilled. This practice is inappropriate for a quality physical education program.

In order to effectively acquire motor skills and movement concepts, children need:

* ample and frequent practice time

* age-appropriate opportunities to develop a functional understanding of basic movement concepts

* appropriate clarification of the particular motor skill/movement concept

* direction about the correct way to perform the skills (after each lesson and from lesson to lesson)

* opportunities to practice skills in an open setting and to build competence and confidence in their ability to perform a variety of motor skills without fear of failure (COPEC, 1992; Graham, 1987; Wall & Murray, 1989)

Recognizing each child's different level of skill acquisition and accommodating these differences will enhance the teacher's ability to create an environment that meets students' needs and teachers' goals.

Social Emotional Development

Dear Diary:

Today in P.E. class we practiced tumbling skills.... Some of the girls are really good, but I don't think I'm going to like this activity. Every time I try to do a cartwheel I feel like I'm losing control of my body. I feel so dumb. I can't do anything right. I'm sure all the other girls are laughing at me. I just want to feel good about gym.

Participation in a quality, developmentally appropriate physical education program can have an important effect on children's perceptions of themselves as socially interacting individuals and as skillful movers. The social-emotional component of physical education involves one's self-concept. Self-concept not only includes children's view of self, but also children's perceptions of how others feel about them (Gallahue, 1987). Self-concept depends upon one's competence, feelings of belonging and self-worth (Gallahue, 1987; Nichols, 1990; Pangrazi, 1982; Siedentop, Herkowitz & Rink, 1984).

* Competence. Children's feelings of competence depend upon how efficiently they accomplish their movement goals. Hebron (1966) suggests that by age 8, children make up to 70 percent of their decisions to participate in activities based upon self-perceived competence. If children believe they are unable to perform a movement, they will be much less likely to want to participate. Feelings of inadequacy will lead to poor performances, thus reinforcing an already low self-concept. Skill challenges for children should allow for early success, be progressive in nature and be built upon previously acquired skills.

Two approaches that may help children achieve greater competence are problem-solving and guided discovery. A problem-solving approach allows for a variety of correct solutions to movement challenges. A guided discovery approach provides opportunities for students to make individual decisions about how they respond to a particular movement challenge. Increased success will help children gain self-confidence and competence, leading to an increase in overall self-concept (Gallahue, 1987; Logsdon et al., 1984; Pangrazi & Dauer, 1992; Purkey, 1970; Siedentop, Herkowitz & Rink, 1984).

* Belonging. Elementary school-age children want to be valuable members of a group. Teachers must "...intentionally design and teach activities throughout the year which provide the opportunity for children to work together for the purpose of improving their emerging social and cooperative skills" (COPEC, 1992). For example, physical educators can incorporate games such as Cooperative Musical Hugs, Cooperative Musical Hoops and Numbers, Letters and Shapes Together. These activities introduce the idea of working together. Older children can benefit from collective score activities. In such activities points are awarded when teams or groups work together toward a common end (Orlick, 1978; Pangrazi, 1982; Stoner, 1982).

* Self-worth. Children's self-worth is based on perceptions of being worthy or unworthy in the estimation of others (Gallahue, 1987; Pangrazi, 1982). Educators can ensure that courtesy and respect are daily goals of the activity environment (teachers should be consistent in their positive interactions with children) and encourage children to praise and support each other in their skill endeavors. As physical educators and classroom educators display courtesy and respect toward students and encourage students to do the same, they aid in affirming the importance and contribution of each child.

Nowhere is the child more unique than in the physical education setting. Teachers must help all children experience the satisfaction and excitement that come from participation in physical activity. Acknowledging children's unique and special movement accomplishments can reinforce children's desires to engage in physical activity and to achieve their full movement potential.

Physical Fitness Development

Dear Diary:

Tomorrow in P.E. class we're going to do that dumb fitness testing. We have to run a mile and do sit-ups and stuff. Coach yells out our scores so everyone can hear. I don't even know why we do this stuff. It's so boring and we hardly ever practice ahead of time....

All children have the right to a well-structured and appropriately presented physical fitness and wellness program. The Council on Physical Education for Children (1992) recommends children participate in a program that allows them to "understand and value the important concepts of physical fitness and the contribution they make to a healthy lifestyle". Regular, vigorous and prolonged physical activity is accepted as a core component of any cardiorespiratory fitness program (Ross, Dotson & Gilbert, 1985).

Physical fitness improvement activities can be included in a physical education program in such a way as to meet teachers' expectations of improved physical fitness and satisfy students' needs of fun and enjoyment. Physical fitness activities should be based upon success and improvement (Pangrazi & Dauer, 1992). Although many physical education classes do not meet on a daily basis, children should be exposed to activities that promote independent, daily exercise and provide them with the tools and knowledge to continue a regular pattern of exercise. An appropriate frequency minimum for children is three aerobic exercise sessions per week (Pangrazi & Dauer, 1992).

Components of a broad fitness program can be effectively presented and reinforced by physical education teachers. School-wide support for a healthy, active lifestyle will serve to reinforce children's enthusiasm. Specific components of an appropriate program, as well as means for promoting a successful physical fitness program, are as follows:

* Students should be taught to set personal fitness goals that can be applied at home as well as at school. These goals should incorporate a regular fitness routine that extends beyond recess and daily or weekly physical education instruction.

* Children should be taught the purpose of fitness activities, the correct way to perform activities and the value of maintaining fitness.

* Physical education lessons in the classroom can include basic anatomy and kinesiology (names and locations in major muscle groups and bones). Information should be related to fitness activities included in physical education class.

* A system that encourages challenging yet reachable goals, as well as continued participation and regular exercise, will be motivating for students.

* Children should be able to assess their personal fitness levels. If it is necessary for the teacher to write down scores, this should be done in a manner that promotes dignity and privacy.

* Total school and home involvement can effectively enhance a physical fitness program. Teachers can send home activities to be performed on weekends and vacations. A fitness calendar can list activities to be performed on certain days, allowing both students and parents to become involved (Pangrazi & Dauer, 1992).

Regular, appropriate physical activity is the responsibility of all educators. It is crucial that children acquire appropriate skills, develop a sound fitness level and feel positive about their movement abilities. A developmentally appropriate physical education program is one that meets teachers' goals of furthering skill and fitness development, yet also accommodates children's interests, desires and feelings. Recognizing individual characteristics and making allowances for children's individual needs will allow all educators to provide an instructionally sound physical education program that maximizes children's opportunities for learning and success.

Dear Diary:

Today is P.E. day. I am so excited. We only have P.E. three days a week. I wish we had it every day! Today we will play some fitness games, jump rope and maybe play hockey. We've been working on hockey skills. I love going to P.E. My teacher makes everyone feel great. I'm not the best athlete but it's O.K.--'cause we have 80 much fun and learn lots too.

Karen H. Weiller is Assistant Professor and Peggy A. Richardson is Professor, University of North Texas, Denton.


Coakley, J. J. (1990). sport and society: Issues and controversies. 4th ed. St. Louis: Mosby.

Council on Physical Education for Children (COPEC). (1992). Position statement: Developmentally appropriate physical education for children.

Gallahue, D. L. (1987). Developmental physical education for today's elementary school children. New York: Macmillan.

Graham, G. (1987). Motor skill acquisition--An essential goal of physical education programs. Journal of Physical Education, Recreation and Dance, 58(7), 44-48.

Hebron, M. E. (1966). Motivated learning. New York: Long Methuen Ltd.

Logsdon, B. J., Barret, K. R., Broer, M. R., McGee, R., Ammons, M., Halverson, L. E., & Roberton, M. A. (1984). Physical education for children: A focus on the teaching, learning process. Philadelphia: Lea & Febiger.

Martens, R. (Ed.). (1978). Joy and sadness in children's sports. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics Publishers.

Nichols, B. (1990). Moving and learning. St. Louis: Times Mirror/Mosby College Publishing Co.

Orlick, T. (1978). The cooperative sports and games book. New York: Pantheon Books.

Orlick, T., & Botterill, C. (1975). Every kid can win. Chicago: Nelson-Hall.

Pangrazi, R. (1982, Nov./Dec.). Physical education, self-concept and achievement. Journal of Physical Education, Recreation and Dance, pp. 16-18.

Pangrazi, R. P., & Dauer, V. P. (1992). Physical education for elementary school children. New York: Macmillan.

Purkey, W. W. (1970). Self-concept and social achievement. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Reuschlein, P. L., & Vogel, P. G. (1985). Motor performance and physical fitness status of regular and special education students. In J. E. Clark & J. H. Humphrey (Eds.), Motor development, pp. 147-164. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Book Co.

Ross, J. G., Dotson, C. O., & Gilbert, G. G. (1985). The national children and youth fitness study: Are kids getting appropriate activity? Journal of Physical Education, Recreation and Dance, 56(1), 82-85.

Siedentop, D., Herkowitz, J., & Rink, J. (1984). Elementary physical education methods. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Stoner, L. J. (1982). Evaluation in the affective domain? Yes! Journal of Physical Education, Recreation and Dance, 53(7), 16-17.

Wall, J., & Murray, N. (1989). Children and movement: Physical education in the elementary school. Dubuque, IA: Wm. C. Brown.
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Author:Richardson, Peggy A.
Publication:Childhood Education
Date:Mar 22, 1993
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