P.E. Philosophy and Program
Classroom teachers teach physical education to their students. The teachers lead their students in physical activity a minimum of 120 minutes per week (double the district requirement), excluding recess. In addition, our school has taken the innovative stand that 75% of physical education will take place outdoors. On severe weather days, the teachers conduct physical education in the school’s multi purpose room. An additional opportunity for exercise will take place when science and social studies units are created to relate to the local community. Every science and social studies unit will include getting students out of the school building and into the community or the outdoors.
The Watershed School believes a solid component of a child’s education is physical education. The State Education Standard is the policy journal of the National Association of State Boards of Education. In 2004 it released “The Role Schools in Preventing Childhood Obesity.” It begins with this sobering introduction:
While the U.S. Surgeon General has identified the obesity epidemic as one of the greatest health problems facing the nation today, educators have had their attention elsewhere. Today’s schools face intense pressure to focus on standardized tests and consequently have placed less emphasis on the broader view of a healthy mind in a healthy body. However, an increasing number of educators and school board members are realizing, as the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE) has written: “Health and success in school are interrelated. Schools cannot achieve their primary mission of education if students and staff are not healthy and fit physically, mentally, and socially.
(The State Education Standard, 2004, p2)
Since 1980, the percentage of children who are overweight has more than doubled, while rates among adolescents have more than tripled. According the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the number of overweight Americans increased over 60 percent between 1991 and 2000! An even more disheartening statistic is that the percentage of overweight children between the ages two and five increased by almost 36 percent in the same time period. A decade ago, type 2 diabetes was almost unheard of among young people, but in some communities it now accounts for nearly 50 percent of new cases of diabetes among children or adolescents. Diabetes is a risk factor for heart disease and an estimated 61 percent of overweight young people have at least one additional risk factor for heart disease, such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure.
In the United States children who watch the most TV and play the most video games are the most overweight. Curiously enough, all during the same period in which American youth have had the highest rates of participation in organized sports in history. The missing element in children’s lives is the extensive outdoor recreational and educational time that until recently was a major part of the childhood routine.
Being overweight in childhood is also associated with social and psychological problems, such as discrimination and poor self-esteem. Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder (2005), pointed out the role of outdoor recreation in children’s emotional development. He states, “Nature is often overlooked as a healing balm for the emotional hardships in a child’s life. You’ll likely never see a slick commercial for nature therapy, as you do for the latest antidepressant pharmaceuticals. But parents, educators, and health care workers need to know what a useful antidote to emotional and physical stress nature can be…A 2003 survey published in the journal Psychiatric Services, found the rate at which American children are prescribed anti-depressants almost doubled in five years; the steepest increase-66 percent-was among preschool children.” Outdoor exercise, coined, “Nature’s Ritalin,” by author Stephen Putnam (2001) is becoming more frequently introduced as a treatment for attention deficit disorder. Putnam points out that movement in outdoor spaces can help satisfy the “wanderer, hunter, farmer, and gatherer in all of us.”
While recreational activity in natural outdoor settings may not be the cure-all for children with the most severe attention deficit disorder, it certainly will be a powerful tool. At The Watershed School, outdoor recreation will be a significant component of our physical and emotional wellness curriculum. With our teachers setting the example for our children by being the primary instructors for physical education and outdoor recreation, our children will be on their way to a healthy lifestyle.