Physical education deserves a place in remote learning


As the majority of California students prepare to learn remotely this fall, one subject that is likely to fall off the public’s radar is physical education (P.E.). But with many children learning at home, without a playground or fitness resources at their disposal, physical education will become more important than ever.

Childhood obesity is a serious problem in California, as 30.5% of children are considered overweight or obese, as noted by the Child Policy Research Center. In Los Angeles, the rate is even higher, at 42%. When factors such as income level and race are included, those numbers, especially among Latinos and African Americans, rise further.

Chronic conditions linked to obesity, such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease, can often be managed and prevented with regular exercise and an improved diet, and physical education is an optimal tool to help children develop healthy habits to prevent these health conditions.

P.E. also has a huge impact on children’s mental health. A recent study in The Lancet shows that children and adolescents are more anxious and depressed than ever. They are more isolated and lonely, they are more sedentary and they are spending more time indoors. P.E. is often the only class where children are encouraged to be active. It is one of the few places where children can form teams, practice social-emotional skills and learn self-discipline and emotional regulation. Physical activity is known to increase attention and concentration, improve mental health and more.

For students to succeed in the fall, P.E. should be incorporated into the online curriculum.

“Many students don’t have the necessary equipment to perform P.E. at home,” said Matthew Flesock, executive director of UCLA Health Sound Body Sound Mind. “But students deserve access to physical education tools that will help them create healthy futures for themselves and their families.”

He adds that students need to be taught the value of other forms of fitness that can be done outside of a school environment. These include yoga, walking, hiking, swimming and other outdoor and wellness-related activities.

Curriculum changes that encourage daily movement and develop habit-forming skills should be considered.

“Traditional subjects such as English, math and science should incorporate activity breaks before and throughout online classes to prime learning and support the notion that our bodies are made to move,” Flesock says.

Through a robust physical education program, we can improve children’s mental stamina, encourage social bonds, develop motor skills, enrich academics, sharpen cognitive function, release tension and build healthier, fitter, more resilient kids for a brighter future, Flesock says.

To address the need for P.E. as classes for the new school year begin remotely, UCLA Health Sound Body Sound Mind has partnered with the Lakers Youth Foundation, the Los Angeles Dodgers Foundation, USTA Southern California, Gorilla Marketing, The LA84 Foundation, SEE-LA, Gopher Sport and Radd Solutions to create and distribute 3,500 P.E. kits to be provided to underserved youth across Los Angeles. These kits will include playground balls, tennis rackets and balls, hand sanitizer, tote bags, jump ropes, masks, resistance bands and other items to help improve access in the home.

Kits will be distributed Aug. 10 and throughout the rest of that week at certain LAUSD-designated Beyond the Bell Grab and Go sites.