In our area, many homeschooling families opt to put their children in school around junior high or high school so that they can play team sports.

Don’ get me wrong–I heartily support the right of parents to make such decisions for their families, and I think team sports are a fine thing. Sports can teach young people personal discipline and many life skills such as cooperation and perseverance. But some of these same folks, a few short years before, resolutely declared that God called them to homeschool. That makes me wince a little. Did God change His mind over football?

Perhaps there’s a secondary lesson here: that we should be very careful about anything we claim to be God’s call, because “the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable.” (Romans 11:29)

That aside, since posting on Monday about the importance of exercise as a part of any child’s regular educational program, I’ve been wondering if we might not broaden our focus concerning physical fitness to a more whole-life perspective.

The end goal of Physical Education is to teach children how to stay fit for life. Click To Tweet

If the end goal of education is to teach our children to be lifelong learners, we might say that the end goal of Physical Education is to teach our children how to stay fit for life. With that in mind, PE has a much wider scope than team sports alone.

Start earlier.

It’s never too early to begin teaching our children to take care of their own health and hygiene. Physical fitness is a part of that. Very young children usually enjoy physical activities and set challenges for themselves–learning to crawl, learning to walk, running and jumping, riding a bicycle–with very little encouragement required, yet by the time our children hit double-digits, many in America are under-active and overweight. If you haven’t already done so, set reasonable limits for television and gaming and instead give children time and opportunity to play outdoors with others. We may need to be a bit deliberate about creating those opportunities. Do the homeschool families in your area have park days? Is there a gym, bowling alley, golf course, or martial arts studio near you that might offer group discounts to homeschoolers? Something as simple as protecting outside recess time in your daily schedule can make a huge difference in your children’s activity level.

My husband, a former athletic trainer, devised an exercise program he called the “Daily Dozen” for our elementary-aged children. Every morning they walked, ran, or skipped a dozen laps around the back yard, did a dozen jumping jacks, a dozen sit-ups, etc. May I be honest? They hated it! But when he went out and did it WITH them, it became play. It was much more fun to chase Dad a dozen laps around the back yard with squirt guns. 😉 So maybe another focus for fitness should be:

Model fitness as a lifestyle. Play as a family.

Healthy habits are more easily “caught” than taught. If parents view exercise and healthy eating as a drudgery or punishment, the children are likely to pick up their negative attitudes toward fitness, but if parents convey that fitness is important and fun, their children will want to join in. Does your family enjoy a sport that allows everyone to participate? One that you can do with friends occasionally? Do you garden and/or cook healthy meals together? For me, the hardest part of teaching my children to be fit was adjusting my own attitudes about exercise and fitness.

Take a “whole life” perspective.

As much as I enjoy watching team sports and as fun as they are to play, most of those offered in school give us no realistic opportunity to play beyond school age. Let’s face it–the chances of winning a football scholarship or playing professional basketball are infinitesimally small, BUT you don’t need two full teams of adults to “shoot hoops” with a few friends. That variation on a popular team theme shifts the focus to an activity you can enjoy for life. It’s also helpful to think “outside the box seats” when considering exercise activities anyone could enjoy for life. Walking, hiking, biking, distance running, mountain climbing, canoeing or kayaking, rowing, swimming, skiing, cross-country, martial arts, dance, weightlifting…the possibilities are almost endless.

As a side benefit, some young people may actually enjoy developing skill at a less popular sport. One of ours pointed out that while he was “in the middle of the pack” in more popular sports such as baseball and basketball, he could really shine in sports where fewer people competed. He loved fencing, kayaking, and Jiu Jitsu, and taught downhill skiing and snowboarding.

We should incorporate related topics.

We’ve touched on this, but health education includes related topics such as personal hygiene, human biology, and healthy eating. While we may teach these topics separately, it’s important to point out how each affects the other.

Homeschooling actually makes it easier to schedule time to focus on fitness because each family controls how they choose to prioritize time that will fit into their schedule and lifestyle. (And isn’t that one of the main challenges to lifetime fitness?) It is also possible to accommodate those who still yearn to play on a team while homeschooling. Many communities have soccer leagues, bowling leagues, civic basketball clubs, and church baseball and volleyball teams that allow anyone to play. If these don’t exist near you, what would it take to start a community sports team that would benefit everyone?