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PE is an essential part of Sabot at Stony Point’s Middle School program: it takes place four times a week, and is held outdoors except in heavy rain or stormy weather. Substantial research demonstrates the cognitive, social, emotional, and physical benefits to children of spending time outside, of physical activity, and of opportunities for social interaction, and our approach to PE allows us to combine all three.

Drop by during a PE class, and you might see cheer circles, where one student completes a strength exercise and his or her partner’s job is to offer encouragement — as loudly as possible. That gets everyone laughing and trying a little harder.

Our “nobody’s out” philosophy keeps everyone involved. So you’ll see tag — its stop-and-go nature is a great interval challenge — but instead of traditional tag, you’ll find students playing heads vs. tails or chicken tag, where the person who gets tagged joins the other team. Being chased by a rubber chicken — look carefully at the video above — is great motivation!

Some of the exercises the children are doing in the video are pretty challenging, like the “plank walks” on the ladder. But that might be hard to see, because the students are having so much fun! In a supportive and encouraging peer environment, the challenges become much more enjoyable.

Students participate in cardiovascular, strength, and flexibility components each week, but we constantly change the way they work through the components. One week they might do traditional sports like soccer, tennis or basketball; the next week they’ll find themselves dancing, hiking or kickboxing their way to better fitness. The variety gives everyone a chance to succeed, and to identify activities they enjoy and can continue to pursue. Students develop an appreciation for each other’s abilities, and recognize that different people have different strengths.

Our intention is to help develop the habits and interests that will foster a lifetime of activity. This is one reason why I love to work with children: I’m helping them establish healthy lifestyle habits from the beginning, starting with a clean slate rather than undoing years of unhealthy behavior.Those lifestyle lessons are reinforced in our weekly Health class.

Thanks to Sabot at Stony Point’s expansive grounds, we can include activities such as trail running and biking. Our wooded campus provides a beautiful natural environment for our PE program, enhancing the mind-body connections students develop when they are outdoors. Freed from indoor noise and distractions, students can tune in to nature—feeling themselves a part of the outdoor environment—and they tune in to their own body’s responses. As they deal with various types of terrain and weather, students begin to figure out both how to challenge themselves and how to identify their limits.

It’s enormously gratifying to see the students having “aha” moments, doing something they originally thought was not possible. Encouraging students to set stretch goals is an important part of our program. Their goals focus on things they can measure on their own, like being able to run an 8-minute mile or balancing on one leg for 4 minutes. Our emphasis on doing “your own best, not someone else’s” encourages students to push themselves and support others in attaining new levels of fitness.

About the Author: 

Renee Kunnen graduated from Lynchburg College with a B.S. in Athletic Training and earned a Master’s degree in Health and Movement Science from Virginia Commonwealth University.