Originally published Feb. 17, 2019 in the Enid News & Eagle.
By Mitchell Willetts
On certain days, bugs crawl up and down the gymnasium walls at Monroe Elementary School, and students scramble for balls to throw and smash them. The insects are all just cute projections, splashed onto the side of the gym from coach Christie Buckner’s iPad, via an app originally designed to entertain cats.
Physical education has changed a lot in Buckner’s nearly 30 years of teaching, she said, and it’s a good thing it has.
For years and years one size fits all approaches to fitness were forced on students, but that never worked too well, she said, and works even less now.
“That’s something of the past,” Buckner said. “That should be buried, because it’s just not the way it is.”
It’s about enjoyment
A top P.E. class priority these days is to show kids that physical activity can be enjoyable, that there are many ways to get their hearts racing and they can find one that suits them best.
“It’s about everyone now,” Buckner said. “Not just that one who can shoot the ball best or run the fastest.”
The focus of P.E. was always on teams sports, she said, basketball, soccer, football, whether the kids wanted to play or not. There was rarely concern over what students wanted to do, but Buckner believes that’s a question worth asking.
“You can keep trying to force it,” she said. “You’ll make yourself miserable, and make it miserable for the kids, too.”
Many programs did, and still do, try to force the narrow approach, she said, but EPS does not.
“It used to be a big deal, everyone wanted to be a part of the team, and that’s really changed,” she said. “It’s not so much about being on a team as it is finding something they enjoy.”
“There’s a lot of individualism that wasn’t there probably just 10 years ago.”
Buckner is the head of elementary physical education for EPS, and though she’s a product of the “old-school” ways herself, she’s not one to shy away from new ideas.
“Teachers are all learning something new all the time, and if you’re not you’re probably not having much success,” she said.
Bethany McVay is relatively new to coaching physical education and has spent her 1 1/2 years doing so at McKinley Elementary School.
She hated P.E. in her K-12 days, largely because she wasn’t fond of sports or particularly good at them. But as she went on to learn, herself, there are many other ways to keep the heart rate up never covered when she was a kid.
She integrates movements and exercises common in CrossFit and high-intensity interval training routines into her classes, even keeping PVC pipe handy for kids to use in place of barbells when practicing various weightlifting techniques.
The Oklahoma State Department of Education has been suggesting, and even demonstrating, such activities to schools as possible additions to existing curriculums, McVay said.
“They’re trying to lean more toward functional fitness.”
“We see that those (CrossFit and HIIT workouts) are becoming more popular with lots of different demographics of people,” she said, adding functional fitness activities will better prepare a person for virtually anything regarding physical demands, sports included.
A mind game
McVay also has incorporated yoga into all of her classes, she said, after receiving a certification over the summer to teach yoga to children.
Yoga is not only good for the body, she said.
“I was really surprised by the number of positive impacts something like yoga can have on the kids, in terms of managing emotions and increasing mindfulness.”
It has proven popular with most of her students regardless of grade level, McVay said, with many requesting it be taught at least once a week.
“We want kids to be able to remain active throughout adulthood, and if team sports isn’t the way to do that then we need to meet them in another place,” McVay said.