Originally published Oct. 3, 2019 in Five Towns/LIHerald.com.
By Jeff Bessen
Three years ago Tara Nelsen, a physical education teacher at the Lawrence Primary School in Inwood was named the 2016 New York State Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance’s Elementary Physical Education Teacher of the Year.
So when Nelsen speaks on physical education, the room should go quiet and people should listen.
“Daily physical activity helps students feel better, work together as a team, reduce anxiety and maintain focus in the classroom,” she said. “PE plays a vital role in the overall development of children and inspires health habits.”
Toward that mission, Nelsen, and fellow physical education teachers Don Makofske and Gerard Lagasse organized Bring Your Parents to PE Week that took place Sept. 23 to 26 at the school that houses kindergarten through second grade students. The event, the third annual, is nationwide and sponsored by Active Schools, a nonprofit organization that supports the concept that physical activity translates into improved child development.
“The purpose is to introduce our school’s PE program and teachers to parents so they will engage with physical education throughout the year,” Nelsen said, “and, to encourage families to be physically active together at home and in the community.” Art teacher Anne Young chipped in by designing picture frames for children and parents to use for photographs.
Guidelines for physical activity recommend that young people from 6 to 17 should engage in at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity daily. According to Active Schools, only 24 percent of children and teenagers in the U.S. achieve that standard. Only a half dozen states require physical education through high school, and only half of middle schools and high schools offer all students participation in intramural sports or physical activity clubs.
The environment is different at Lawrence Primary, said Principal Christine Moore.
“As early childhood educators, we are very aware of the need for varied avenues for our students to be active,” she said. “Children aged 4 to 7 are full of energy and excitement about the world. They need many opportunities to run, jump, climb, and dance. We provide this at Lawrence Primary in PE classes, music with dance, the daily mile track for movement, and our purposeful movement pathways in our hallways.”
Roughly 30 families took park in the school’s four-day event. The classes began with students warming up what Nelsen called “their locomotor skills,” which are considered the building blocks of coordination ranging from walking to hopping and sliding side to side. That was followed by muscle strength and endurance exercises. Then there were games such as alligator tag, make it, take it and zookeepers.
“My single most favorite thing has to be the satisfaction that comes from watching a child’s eyes light up when they finally ‘get’ it and succeed at something they have been working hard at,” she said.
Nelsen said that the school’s physical education curriculum, which aims to create a lifetime of healthy habits, ties in with its social-emotional learning curriculum that incorporates the concepts of taking turns, sharing and collaboration.
“Physical education is something close to my heart,” Nelsen said. “I can’t imagine my life without movement, and I want every child, every parent and every community member to know how awesome movement can be.”