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Gym classes should teach skills for a lifetime

Unleash healthy gym alternatives.

A fifth grade class doing yoga in physical

A fifth grade class doing yoga in physical education class. Photo Credit: Newsday / Amra Radoncic

Maybe it was a fear of chaotic dodgeball games, the always paralyzing humiliation of being picked last, or an inability to care one way or another if your team won: Perhaps gym class was not for you.

The limits of traditional physical education have been long apparent to educators and anyone stuck in a low-energy and forced floor-hockey match. The athletically gifted among us get a chance to strut their stuff while those without bulging muscles or hand-eye coordination angle to the sidelines to become spectators. Maybe that just makes for a less-than-useful 45 minutes before math. But students who come away with negative feelings about learning a healthy, active lifestyle could be doomed to become unhealthy and disengaged adults.

Some schools in New York have smartly discarded rote reliance on team sports for physical education and moved toward fitness skills that can last a lifetime. On Long Island, some districts have even incorporated fly-fishing or mountain biking. In NYC, the Department of Education offers after-school programs with diverse activities such as dance, double Dutch jump-rope and tai chi.

That’s worth applauding as much as any third-period touchdown in flag football. And similar initiatives should be expanded, as the city moves toward all schools having a designated physical education space. Traditional team games are important staples to teach sportsmanship and cooperation, but we’re not all going to be able to hit home runs into our 60s. Teaching alternative skills such as yoga or orienteering can keep students interested, and provide paths to enduring and vigorous exercise.

Plus, students who are taught to hike, kayak, swim or explore the outdoors have that much more reason to get out from behind a computer and enjoy the parks, beaches and recreational facilities of the metropolitan area. Perfect for a selfie, too.

Unleash healthy gym alternatives, and it’ll be quickly clear that there are plenty of options beyond jogging. Expanding the athletic palette is a well-earned A no matter how you grade it.


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