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Is physical education needed in schools?

Published August 10. 2013 09:02AM

There's a controversy that's swirling around some school districts around the country regarding physical education classes.

In times of tight budgets and mandatory cut backs, some districts are eliminating physical education.

That's an issue that's generating a lot of heat here in Florida and elsewhere where parental protests and angry letters to the editor are flourishing after some districts had to eliminate phys ed programs.

I find it ironic here, in the Land of Perpetual Sunshine, that parents are saying it's the school district's job to give their kids recreation opportunities.

I can't see loading one more responsibility on teachers and school districts.

I am mighty impressed with all the programs and recreational opportunities for kids. Almost every neighborhood has a nice community park. I guess you won't be too shocked when I tell you the parks are mostly devoid of kids.

Because we are surrounded by wonderful waterways, organizations sponsor many activities to lure kids. There are fishing classes, children's fishing tournaments with wonderful prizes and free swimming, sailing and kayaking lessons.

There are also free tennis classes with great teachers anxious to get kids involved in the sport.

Well, you guessed it. Few kids take advantage of any of those offerings. At the last tennis sign-up, there were two kids who showed up. Fishing tournaments and free lessons attract, at best, a handful. And the turnout for our juvenile sports team is low.

The kayak club stopped offering free lessons for kids because only two kids came to the last one.

We've got wonderful beaches with basketball, volleyball and other games for kids. I'm happy to say teens do make good use of the beach recreational facilities, probably because they drive and don't have to wait for parents to take them.

OK, by now you're probably asking yourself the same question those of a "certain generation" are wondering about.

There's this wonderful thing called the great outdoors - a place where kids can run and play to their hearts content. Do kids still "hang out" outdoors, running and playing childhood games?

Those of us in that "certain generation" remember running like the wind through the neighborhood and playing games outdoors until it was dark and parents called us in.

We didn't need an hour or two of physical education in school to get exercise.

We didn't need organized sports and lessons. Sure, we had them. And we went gleefully. One of my happy childhood memories is taking the school bus to free swimming lessons, singing at the top of our lungs while we traveled.

Who doesn't remember singing 99 bottles on the shelf as the bus rattled along?

Back then, we didn't rely on someone else to provide us with exercise. Hide- and seek, kick the can and other games took place on a nightly basis. We had trouble keeping still but certainly had no trouble being physical.

When I asked my daughters to name their favorite childhood memory, they said "running around the neighborhood playing games until you called to say it was time to come in."

Parents tell me I am unrealistic thinking kids can still do that today. "It's not safe," they say.

In my area, many parents still drive adolescence and teenagers to the bus stop because it's not safe to walk.

Do you know how far the bus stop is in our neighborhood? A short block. But parents back their car out of the garage and drive their kids to the bus stop.

Then they demand more time for physical education in school.

Because I'm a curious journalist, I wanted to get the opinion of the experts - the kids themselves.

While elementary school kids said they look forward to recess, they weren't as enthusiastic about formal gym classes. Teachers say gym class serves a good purpose when kids can run off some steam and energy. And for the schools that have eliminated recess, I can see a purpose for gym at the elementary level.

Older kids point blank called gym class "a waste." One of their reasons didn't resonate well with me: "We hate to sweat."

When I went to visit my grandchildren, I asked them their opinion of gym classes. My twelve-year-old granddaughter said she loved it. She loves playing sports and spends every day after school on athletic fields and in gyms playing basketball.

My 16-year-old grandson said high school students he knows wish the school would eliminate gym classes. "We get enough running around on our own," he says.

Well, he does. And lots of other kids do, too, especially those who participate in sports.

Those who don't can bike ride or get a neighborhood game together.

Do kids do that anymore? You tell me.

I'd like to know what's going on in other areas.

Do you see kids on the street playing?

Are there still exhilarating games of tag and hide and seek?

Or, do today's kids spend all their time indoors with video games, computers and electronic gizmos?

Tell me what you see in your area.

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