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Essential Components of a Quality Physical Education Program

This is an excerpt from Dynamic Physical Education for Elementary School Children-19th Edition.

Physical education teachers must make sure that students receive a quality physical education experience that results in student learning. To do this, programs must be guided by current research, thinking, and philosophy. One of the unique characteristics of physical education is that it is informed by many other disciplines. The information and curriculum provided in this book are deeply grounded in research from exercise physiology, psychology, motor control, and pedagogy and teaching. All these disciplines, and others, are interwoven to provide students with a quality physical education experience designed to teach students skills, provide them knowledge, and develop positive attitudes toward all physical activity. Again, a strength of physical education is that it applies the evidence from a variety of areas to provide evidence-based practice. This is a complex and difficult task that physical educators must implement for the benefit of youth.


Based on this large body of evidence from many areas, quality physical education programs must address several essential components that interlock to form a program that will be valued by parents, teachers, and students. Each component is described briefly here, whereas in-depth coverage is provided in the chapters referenced under each point. Figure 1.1 summarizes the eight essential components of a quality physical education program.

  1. Quality physical education programs are organized around content standards that offer direction and continuity to instruction and evaluation. A quality program is driven by a set of content standards. These standards are defined by various competencies that children are expected to accomplish. Standards are measurable so that both teachers and students know when progress has been made. Comprehensive physical education content standards are presented later in this chapter. (Chapter 8 offers some strategies for teachers who evaluate whether they and their students are meeting the standards.)
  2. Quality programs are student-centered and based on the developmental urges, characteristics, and interests of students. Children learn best when the skills and activities they must learn match their physical and emotional development. Including activities in the program because they match the teacher's competencies—but not the students' needs—is unacceptable. Teachers must teach new activities outside their comfort zone to present a comprehensive program. (Chapter 4 discusses the urges, characteristics, and interests of children and the way that they affect the creation of a quality physical education program. Chapter 6 offers many ideas for understanding and teaching to the personal needs of students.) A quality program focuses on the successes of students so that they are motivated to continue. Developing positive behaviors toward physical activity is a key goal of physical education. (Chapter 6 also discusses essential elements of teaching and ways to give children positive reinforcement in learning situations.)
  3. Quality physical education programs make physical activity, physical fitness, and motor-skills development the core of the program. Physical education is the only place in the entire school curriculum where students learn motor skills. Therefore, the physical education program must focus on students' skill development and quality physical activity. As part of the physical activity umbrella, students learn the knowledge and skills needed to achieve and maintain a health-enhancing level of physical fitness. (Chapters 2 and 3 explain the importance of physical activity and fitness for children's optimal growth and development.)
  4. Quality physical education programs teach management skills and self-discipline. Physical education teachers are often evaluated based on how students behave in their classes rather than on how much their students know about physical education. Administrators and parents look to see whether students are on task and receiving competent instruction. When a class is well managed and students work with self-discipline, the experience compares aligns with classroom instruction, bringing credibility to the program. (Chapter 7 suggests many methods for managing a classroom and promoting self-discipline.)
  5. Quality programs include all students. Instruction is designed for students who need help the most—namely, less-skilled students and children with disabilities. Students who are skilled and blessed with innate ability have many opportunities to learn during private lessons, clubs, and programs. Unskilled students or children with disabilities lack confidence and often cannot help themselves. Physical education may be the last opportunity these children will have to learn skills in a caring, positive environment. Instruction designed to include and encourage the less-skilled and less-motivated children will ensure a positive and successful experience. Students who are not naturally gifted must perceive themselves as successful if they are to enjoy and value physical activity. (Chapter 9 focuses on dealing with children who have disabilities and modifying activities so that all children can succeed.)
  6. Quality physical education programs focus instruction on the process of learning skills rather than on the product or outcome of performing the skill. When students are learning new motor skills, they should learn proper techniques first and then focus on the product of performing the skill. Put another way, it is more important to teach children to catch a beanbag properly than it is to worry about how many they catch or miss. (Chapter 5 suggests strategies for optimizing skill learning.Chapter 8 examines when to focus on the process or product evaluation of motor skills.)
  7. Quality physical education programs teach lifetime activities that students can use to improve their health and personal wellness. Children are prepared to participate in activities they can continue to engage in when they become adults. The most popular activities for adults are outdoor activities, individual sports, and fitness activities and not as many team sports as one might think (Physical Activity Council, 2013). Specifically, activities such as stretching exercises, bicycling, strength development exercises, jogging, swimming, and aerobics are popular with adults. By far, walking is the activity most often reported in adulthood. Quality physical education looks to the future and offers activities that children can enjoy and use as adults. (Chapter 3 emphasizes the importance of teaching lifetime physical activity skills and describes ways to teach wellness and develop a healthy lifestyle.)
  8. Quality programs teach social and personal responsibility, including addressing social and emotional learning, gender, and diversity issues. Physical education is an effective laboratory for students to learn and apply social skills such as cooperation and communication. In addition, it lends itself to teaching skills associated with relationship building and conflict resolution. (Chapter 6 offers strategies for dealing with gender and diversity issues. Chapter 19 includes activities exploring diverse cultures through dance.)

Figure 1.1 Essential components of a quality physical education program.

Figure 1.1 Essential components of a quality physical education program.