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Elementary Physical Education and Dodgeball
What SHOULD Elementary Physical Education Look Like?
The teaching of physical education to students in elementary school can be facilitated and enhanced by the playing of appropriate games and sports. When students engage in game-play, valuable motor skills, control and manipulation skills can be developed and improved. Students can move about by running, walking, skipping, hopping or jumping in order to work on basic locomotor skills. Games and sports can also help elementary students develop nonlocomotor skills by turning, twisting, bending and rocking. If a game involves handling an object, such as a bean-bag or ball, kids can practice basic manipulative skills such as propulsion, receiving, redirecting and continuous control. In addition to providing opportunities for the development of these skills, students can become actively engaged in competitive activities, gain confidence and knowledge and become more aware of their responsibilities as individuals and team-members.
Choosing Appropriate Activities for Elementary Students
Suitable games for elementary students should be chosen based on whether or not they meet certain criteria. These standards include development of motor skills, physical and emotional safety, sufficient participation time for each student, an adequate level of difficulty and the inclusion (not elimination) of all students. Games should also provide students with a way to progressively move from one level to the next in developing their motor skills and should be age-appropriate. In teaching physical education to students using games and sports, teachers should be careful to consider the individual needs and differences in development that students will undoubtedly have.
Games: Are They All Fun for Everyone?
An article by Neil F. Williams entitled “The Physical Education Hall of Shame,” that appeared in the Journal of Physical Education in February of 1994 identified games or activities that did not contribute to the development of particular motor skills, cognitive skills or affective skills. Williams pointed out several games including those commonly viewed as ‘harmless fun,’ such as musical chairs, Simon says, tag and line soccer and explained how these games had one or more harmful elements or were not supportive of the fundamental purposes of physical education. These elements included the absence of a clear physical education-oriented purpose, the potential to make one or more students feel shame, a focus on elimination of participants, low participation time per student, a lack of emphasis on the teaching of motor skills and overemphasis on “fun."
Dodgeball: Is It Appropriate for Elementary Students?
With appropriate criteria for physical education in mind, it would be wise to take a look at a statement recently released by the National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE) regarding dodgeball. Apparently there has been much discussion regarding the issue of appropriateness of playing dodgeball in a school setting. Not surprisingly, the NASPE has determined that based on certain aspects of this game it should not be played as a part of any K-12 physical education program.
Knowing the criteria for suitable games and knowing the rules of dodgeball should be enough for anyone to understand why this game is not only inappropriate but is also a candidate for induction into William’s Physical Education Hall of Shame, with a parade and much fanfare. The standards for a suitable game include a purposeful focus on developing motor skills in a sequential way, on developing positive social skills, on being inclusive and not exclusive and on providing each student with a fair amount of participation time, safety and consideration for individual differences.
In dodgeball, students stand in a two lines facing one another and the ball is thrown from one side to the other. The intention of the person throwing the ball is to hit a member of the opposing team and cause them to be eliminated. The competition is often fierce and in many instances, the ball winds up being thrown very hard, which can result in someone getting hit in the face, stomach, groin or other area that is sensitive. Stronger, more coordinated and confident students will naturally gravitate towards a practice of singling out weaker, slower players on the opposite team who they know will not be as successful at dodging the ball because, after all, the point is to eliminate as many players on the other team as quickly as possible. While most students would vehemently protest any accusation of having bad intentions, there is really no way to deny that this game does end up leaving some students feeling singled out, weak and embarrassed. Any motor skill development would be minimal at best and students would not be focused on motor skill development, since their only goal would be to hope that they were not the next person to be creamed by the ball. In most cases, only the strongest players in dodgeball end up dominating, with the weaker ones having already been eliminated and having to sit by and watch, feeling inferior as their dominant peers duke it out. Consideration could hardly be made for the various skill levels and needs of individuals, especially if they had any sort of special needs.
Avoid Lasting Negative Impact
While some people may think that playing dodgeball is an appropriate and ‘fun’ activity for elementary students, it is obvious that this game is seriously deficient when it comes to reaching the true goals of physical education. Not only is it dangerous physically, it is also detrimental to the emotional well-being of students. The impact of a dodgeball disaster such as a student being hit in the stomach and doubling over or winding up with a broken nose can end up being long-lasting, as students will entertain one another by recounting the tales to one another over and over, sometimes to the dismay and embarrassment of those who were injured. These ‘lessons’ of dodgeball will be remembered, even into adulthood, while the benefit of an actual physical education lesson, if there were any, would be long forgotten.
Choose Activities for Positive Impact
Dodgeball falls far short of the stated goals of physical education for elementary students. Rather than risking a negative outcome, the successful teacher will seek to provide activities that are stimulating and will bring about positive, long-term benefits. Acceptable activities can be chosen if children can feel safe and can all enjoy the activity. Students should all be able to participate for all or as much of the game time as possible and there should be a focus on the development of specific motor skills and overall health. Age appropriateness is another important consideration as well as consideration for the needs of all students developmentally. Skills should be developed progressively throughout the course of the year and give each student an experience in which they feel successful and positive about health and physical education. When students are engaged, feel safe and are appropriately challenged, the fun will naturally follow and the impact will undoubtedly be positive and long-lasting.