Physical Education

Physical education

Physical education is an educational process to develop specific knowledge, skills, and understanding that promote physical competence.1 Physical education fulfills a unique role in education and is an integral part of the schooling process. The role of physical education is to provide instructional activities that promote skill development and proficiency as well as enhance an individual’s overall health.2 The basic aim of physical education is to set aside daily a portion of the school day devoted to large-muscle activities that increase movement skills, enhance physical fitness, and positively influence the cognitive and affective development of children.

National Standards

National standards for physical education were adopted in 1995 by the National Association for Sport and Physical Education to provide guidance for teachers of physical education.3 The standards are now under the authority of SHAPE America, the Society of Health and Physical Educators, when the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance changed its name and absorbed its individual associations under the new name. The National Standards for K-12 Physical Education include:

Standard 1: The physically literate individual demonstrates competency in a variety of motor skills and movement patterns.

Standard 2: The physically literate individual applies knowledge of concepts, principles, strategies, and tactics related to movement and performance.

Standard 3: The physically literate individual demonstrates the knowledge and skills to achieve and maintain a health-enhancing level of physical activity and fitness.

Standard 4: The physically literate individual exhibits responsible personal and social behavior that respects self and others.

Standard 5: The physically literate individual recognizes the value of physical activity for health, enjoyment, challenge, self-expression, and/or social interaction.”4

Fundamental Movement Skills

Fundamental movement skills must be refined prior to the introduction of specialized movement skills. Fundamental movement skills include locomotion skills (walking, running, leaping, jumping, hopping, climbing, galloping, sliding, and skipping), manipulation skills (ball rolling, throwing, kicking, punting, striking, volleying, bouncing, catching, and trapping), and stability skills (bending, stretching, twisting, turning, swinging, upright balances, inverted balances, rolling, starting, stopping, and dodging). Specialized movement skills taught in physical education classes can relate to the skills needed for the sports of football, basketball, baseball, hockey, track and field, racket games, and wrestling as well as those skills involved with dance, swimming, and tumbling.

Health-Related Fitness Components

Health-related fitness components of muscular strength, muscular endurance, cardiovascular endurance, joint flexibility, and body composition are critical for achieving the health objectives of physical education. Performance-related fitness components include balance, coordination, agility, speed of movement, and power. Perceptual-motor components that are part of physical education include body awareness, space awareness, directional awareness, synchrony, rhythm, and sequence.

Affective growth can be enhanced by a physical education program that is designed to increase the ability of children to act, interact, and react effectively with others as well as themselves. Children’s self-concept includes their feelings of belonging, perceived competence, worthiness, acceptance of self, uniqueness, and virtue. In physical education, recreation, or sport setting, positive socialization involves learning cooperative behavior, fair play, and being a good sport. Teamwork, honesty, loyalty, and self-control can be achieved in a good program that involves physical activity.5

History of Physical Education

It has been suggested that the history of physical education has its origins in the earliest stages of human society in the emphasis on survival skills, such as hunting and early military training. The ancient Greek tradition of the Olympic Games originated in 776 B.C. with men seeking to prove their physical prowess.6 Plato included physical fitness training in his school in Greece in 386 B.C.7

Modern physical education had its influences from the three countries of Germany, Sweden, and England. Friedrich Ludwig Jahn established the first gymnastic school for children in 1811 in Berlin that emphasized standards of physical strength and abilities. Swedish teacher Pehr Henrik Ling developed the Royal Gymnastic Central Institute in 1813 to advance physical conditioning, independent of Jahn’s work. This led to many European nations following with private schools for gymnastics in the 1800s.8

The early development of physical education in the United States was introduced by immigrants from Europe. The German system of gymnastic training utilized heavy apparatus, such as the side horse, parallel bars, and horizontal bars in the pursuit of fitness. The Swedish system of exercise promoted health through the performance of a series of prescribed movement patterns with light apparatus, such as wands and climbing ropes. The English contribution included sports and games with a system that stressed moral development through participation in physical activities.

The first school in America to include physical education as an integral part of the curriculum was the Round Hill School in 1823 in Northampton, Massachusetts. Catherine Beecher, the founder of the Hartford Female Seminary, included calisthenics in her school curriculum in 1824 and was the first American to design a program of exercise for children. She advocated for daily physical education to be taught in public schools, but it wasn’t until 1855 when Cincinnati, Ohio became the first city school system to offer physical education for their children. In 1866 California became the first state to pass a law requiring exercise periods in public schools twice a day.

During the 1890s and early 1900s, John Dewey, Thomas Wood, G. Stanley Hall, Edward Thorndike, and others challenged traditional education with educational reforms to include physical education. Their position supported the idea that physical education contributed to the physical well-being of children as well as to their social, emotional, and intellectual development. Training schools for physical education teachers were also established during this time.

The impetus for the establishment of the physical education system in America stemmed from war when many drafted recruits in the U.S. military were not physically fit for combat during World War I. Legislation was passed to advance the quality of physical education classes throughout the country.9 During the early 1920s many states passed legislation requiring physical education in schools. During World War II, the emphasis on physical education shifted from games and sports to physical conditioning.10 The Korean War again proved that Americans were not as physically fit as they should be, and physical fitness was emphasized with new more stringent standards set within U.S. schools.11

In 1953 the Kraus-Weber study found that American children were far less fit than European children.12 As a result, President Dwight D. Eisenhower established the President’s Council on Youth Fitness in 1956. President John F. Kennedy actively promoted physical fitness, and under his direction, the Council developed and promoted a curriculum to improve fitness. The Council offered a pilot program to almost a quarter of a million schoolchildren during the 1961-1962 school year that showed real progress in the number of students who could pass the physical fitness test a year later. Later administrations added new programs and awards, and the Council is now known as the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness & Nutrition.13

The commitment to physical education programs has seen a decline when additional subjects and electives have taken the place of these classes. School administration budget cuts often result in physical education classes being reduced or eliminated.14 However, during the Obama administration, the national Let’s Move! Active Schools initiative was launched in 2013 to ensure that 60 minutes of physical activity a day is the norm in schools across the country. The program equipped schools with the resources and tools to increase physical education and physical activity opportunities for students.15

  • 1. “The Nature And Meaning Of Physical Education.” The Gleaner. 15 Sep. 2015. < > 29 Nov. 2017.
  • 2. Boyce, B. Ann. “Physical Education – Overview, Preparation of Teachers.” < > 29 Nov. 2017.
  • 3. Gallahue, David L. and Frances Cleland Donnelly. Developmental Physical Education for All Children. 4th edition. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics. 2003. pp. 4,10.
  • 4. “National PE Standards.” SHAPE America. < > 29 Nov. 2017.
  • 5. Op. cit., Gallahue and Donnelly. pp. 14-21.
  • 6. “Physical education.” New World Encyclopedia. < > 29 Nov. 2017.
  • 7. Martin, Aaron. “A Brief History of Physical Education in America’s Schools.” Iowa Chiropractic Clinic & Sports Injuries. < > 29 Nov. 2017.
  • 8. Op. cit., “Physical education.”
  • 9. Op. cit., Martin.
  • 10. Op. cit., Boyce.
  • 11. “The Evolution of Physical Education.” SPARK. < > 29 Nov. 2017.
  • 12. Op. cit., Boyce.
  • 13. “The Federal Government Takes on Physical Fitness.” John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. < > 29 Nov. 2017.
  • 14. Op. cit., “The Evolution of Physical Education.”
  • 15. “Let’s Move Active Schools.” Let’s Move! < > 29 Nov. 2017.