By Chris Croll
When we reflect back on our favorite teachers from childhood, few of us conjure images of physical education teachers. In fact, I cannot remember the name of any P.E. teacher I had in years K-12. Because it is an elective, phys ed class has always been considered secondary in importance to core school subjects. But that is changing now that we are in the middle of a pandemic. In fact, I would argue that P.E. is the most important class your child will take this year.
If “sitting is the new smoking,” as doctors are fond of saying these days, our kids are about to develop the equivalent of a pack-a-day habit. Spending 6-7 hours (at least) every day sitting in one place could wreak havoc on their developing bodies. Many pediatricians report that a majority of their patients have already gained weight during the pandemic. This makes sense since sports are canceled, playgrounds are closed and gallivanting around the neighborhood with other kids is generally discouraged. If we project out another 6+ months of relative inactivity for our kids, many of them are at risk for becoming overweight or even obese. This includes children who were physically fit prior to the start of the pandemic.
Fortunately, Loudoun County Public Schools plans to offer online P.E. classes to elementary and secondary students as part of their distance learning program. This is a good time for parents to become familiar with your child’s P.E. curriculum and teacher. It is also a good time for parents to model healthy exercise habits at home. Let’s hope the P.E. teachers are developing assignments that get our kids moving 5-7 days a week, not just during the days they have synchronous P.E. instruction.
If your high school student is not taking online physical education, you might consider signing them up for a “backyard P.E. class” being offered by a local fitness trainer who will come to your yard or neighborhood to lead classes. There are also many fitness programs online, including yoga instruction that does not require a lot of space. Your high schooler can even do some good for the community while exercising. A local nonprofit, Ryan Bartel Foundation, is sponsoring a Virtual Color Run this fall where teens (and their parents) can log miles in an online 5K by running outside, walking in a local park or even racing up and down the stairs of an apartment building. Doing events like these as a family provide the benefits of exercising while also giving parents the opportunity to spend time with their children. Plus, families are raising money for a good cause. Win-win-win! (Author’s Note: I serve on the Board of Directors for the Ryan Bartel Foundation and hope you will all join us for this fun event.)
If you need further motivation to get your family moving, some doctors are now saying obesity increases the risk of developing a severe case of COVID-19 by 20 percent. We know exercise boosts the immune system too so some predict that regular exercise can even protect you from contracting the virus. Whether or not these claims turn out to be true, we can all agree that keeping ourselves and our kids moving has indisputable health benefits.
Distance learning classroom teachers plan to incorporate ‘movement breaks’ and ‘shake it out’ exercises during their online classes. But those are meant to help kids focus, not get their heart rates up. Until our children are back running at recess, playing in after school sports and attending P.E. class, it is important for parents to play a leading role in making sure our kids get enough exercise.
Like the local grocery workers and Amazon delivery people, I believe our P.E. teachers will go down in history as heroes of the COVID-19 pandemic. They are working hard to help us keep our kids healthy. Thank you to not only all of the P.E. teachers out there today but to my former P.E. teachers who kept me moving as a kid (even if I don’t remember any of your names.)
[Chris Croll is a writer, community activist and former member of the Loudoun County School Board (Catoctin District). She lives in Leesburg with her husband and two children.]