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The Sport Digest - ISSN: 1558-6448

Children Need Physical Education & Play

Physical education and play are two areas that are alarmingly neglected in the public school system. Richard Louv reports that since 1995, 40% of schools have cutback or eliminated recess and that that many elementary schools are being constructed without playgrounds (Louv 2005), all this in spite of overwhelming evidence that supports superior performance in the classroom as a result of physical activity (Bossenmeyer). Many of these changes are a result of increasing pressures associated with standardized testing. Olga Jarred speculates many instructors are pressured to teach only what is covered by the test. (Jarred 2005). In many cases this means cut backs in physical education.

Rea Pica articulated, “Somehow we have separated the body and the mind and assume that one can function without the other (2005 personal communication).” The truth is that physical activity and play fulfill children’s needs at many different levels. According to the American Association for the Child’s Right to Play, “play responds to a child’s emotional and social needs, contributes to the child’s cognitive and intellectual needs, and addresses the child’s physical needs (ISP 2005).”

Teaching physical education and play are as crucial to a child’s development as any academic endeavor. Perceptual motor skill development is directly related to central nervous system and how it processes information received from sensory organs through out the body. Trained children can better process information regarding their place in space and time (Chapan 2005). An assumption is generally made, that with time children automatically become coordinated, and attain spatial and directional awareness. This in not true; maturation and practice are two key elements for children to develop greater coordination and spatial awareness.

Four areas within perceptual motor development that are helpful in the development of children are: bilateral proficiency, throwing and catching, balance, and acceleration and deceleration. The corpus callosum is a network of sensory bands connecting both cerebral hemispheres. Exercises that involve crossing the midsection of the body promote the development of the corpus callosum. The purpose of these sensory bands is to exchange and interpret sensory information.

According to Maureen Hawke (2003) of the Learning Connection Center, cross-lateral exercises are effective for the development of bi-lateral proficiency. Examples of cross-lateral activities include: marching while taping opposite knees, skipping while tapping opposite knees, tapping opposite toes, and then tapping opposite heals behind the stationary leg, lunging toward one side and tapping the extended foot with the opposite hand.

According Dean M. Clifford catching is absolutely essential to the development of gross motor skills because children practice reacting to information provided by proprioceptive organs and the eyes (Clifford 2004). Catching and throwing should be taught in different stages and with different objects to maximize the student’s abilities and to keep them engaged in the activities. Objects that are easy to catch, such as beach balls and beanbags, can be used for beginners whereas small rubber balls and balls that are oddly shaped (foot ball) can be used for moor experienced throwers.

It is generally assumed that children will automatically know how to stop and go. According to Rea Pica, this is not so (Pica 2005). Pica also details the following “Many a child has arrived in the early and even upper-elementary grades not knowing his elbows from his shoulders, unable to line up without getting too close to someone else, or lacking the ability to come to a timely halt when faced with an unexpected (or even an expected!) Obstacle.” Children must be taught early how to accelerate, but more importantly how to stop. Patrick Hagerman (2005) writes in the Strength and Conditioning Journal about the importance of deceleration in sports. In his article Hagerman writes, “Deceleration is a crucial component of every sport…it may be more important than acceleration or the ability to maintain velocity because it plays a roll in changing direction, cutting, stopping, and transitioning from one move or play to another (Hagerman 2005).” When accelerating and decelerating children learn the principles of motion (such as inertia, and momentum) and the inverse relationship that exists between stability and mobility.

Balance and coordination rely on the interaction of multiple body organs and systems including the eyes, ears, brain and nervous system, cardiovascular system, and muscles (Edgren 2001). Spatial awareness is a term given to a person’s conscience awareness of their place in time, however, without balance spatial awareness is impossible (Blythe 2004). When is balancing himself he is in essence practically counteracting gravity, and understanding principles of motion that govern every day life.

Physical education is a supremely important component of a child’s development. Through the development of perceptual motor skills a child will be given practical tools that he can apply to his activities inside and outside of the classroom.


Blythe, S. (2004). Neurological Dysfunction as a Significant Factor in Children Diagnosed with Dyslexia Retrieved May 12, 2005

Bossenmeyer, M. Eliminate Recess? Let’s Skip It! Retrieved May 12, 2005 http://www.peacefulplaygrounds.com/press8.htm

Chapan, C. (N.D.) Sports for a Lifetime. Retrieved May 9, 2005 http://www.physigraphe.com/Articles/sportslifetime_chapan.htm

Clifford, D.(N.D.) Developing Motor Skills. Retrieved May 12, 2005 http://www.zerotofive.org/ParentAid/motorskills.html

Edgren, A. (2001) “Balance and coordination tests.” The Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine. Farmington Hills, MI

Hagerman, P. (2005) Strength and Conditioning Journal. Vol. 27. P57

Hawke, M. (2003). Help Your Class To Learn! Retrieved May 12, 2005 http://www.learningconnections.com.au/PromobookletLCP.pdf

International Play Association. (2005). Declaration of a child’s right to play. Retrieved May 12, 2005 http://www.ipausa.org/declare.htm