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Homeschool P.E. Programs that Fit a Busy Schedule - Part One
Most homeschool parents would agree that sports and fitness are an essential component of a healthy childhood. Yet P.E. is sometimes the hardest subject to fit into the homeschool routine. Even simple forms of exercise are time consuming, and if each child wants to try a different sport the school schedule quickly approaches overdrive. If children lose interest in a fitness program, the struggle to incorporate P.E. is compounded. These factors can push fitness to the back shelf of the homeschool agenda.
Fortunately, with a little creativity it’s possible to fit a successful exercise routine into the daily homeschool shuffle. In this two-part series, let’s look at ways to overcome some of the common obstacles to a great P.E. program.
Making Time for Exercise
Children who have the talent to pursue an athletic career will obviously need an extensive P.E. program. For the rest of us, a basic approach works best. As a general rule, the closer to home and more simple an activity is, the more likely it is to fit into a homeschool schedule.
When planning a schedule, parents do well to accept that P.E. is going to take some time. If we don’t give P.E. at least this much validation, we will never stick with a program. Life has a way of eliminating things we don’t prioritize.
Begin with a realistic evaluation of the time you will invest in your P.E. program. Decide on a goal, and build your plan accordingly. I allow one to three hours a day for P.E., including driving time. I may make an exception to the time and distance limits on Fridays, if we’re getting through our academics on schedule. I want my children to develop lifelong fitness habits and learn the basics of some popular sports.
My plan is simply for my kids to exercise daily and pick up some skills. I use a combination of affordable, challenging activities that the kids enjoy and that fit into our schedule. Children’s enthusiasm is highest at certain times of day. We exercise mid-afternoon, when everyone has the “wiggles” and we need a break from schoolwork. Take a look at our schedule from a previous season, below.
Boys play tennis at park with friends and run one mile. Girl rides bike around park exercise trail with friend. Moms walk and talk.
1 hour, plus 30 minutes driving time
Pull trash carts down road and hike back up. Go through weights routine once. (Note that a weights routine should be carefully supervised and approved by a doctor. Children and teens should not participate in powerlifting, competitive weightlifting, or bodybuilding.) In addition, play games with friends at AWANA club and Youth Group. (This activity is not included in the time commitment.)
About 25 minutes
Two children participate in local track club. One child runs nearby hills with Mom.
1 hour 15 minutes, plus 1 hour driving time
Play at nearby park – frisbee, tag, etc. Go through weights routine once.
1 hour 30 minutes
One child rides in Pony Club (paid for by charter school). Two other children run neighborhood route.
Total time for Pony Club: 2 hours plus 1 hour 45 minutes driving time. Total time for running and cool-down: about 45 minutes.
Go through weights routine once. Sweep driveway for pay. Hike, ride bikes, or play outside with friends.
Time for weights routine: About 25 minutes. Time for other activities varies.
Before you’re too impressed – or not! – please note that we rarely completed everything on this schedule. As any homeschool parent knows, life interrupts the best laid plans. The point is to have a schedule. Children thrive on routine, and a clearly written program is easy to resume after an interruption.
The Friendship and Variety Factors
For all its value, a schedule is ineffective if the children are not engaged in their P.E. activities. Children don’t stay motivated by repetitive, solitary forms of exercise. They will exercise harder and longer at activities that engage them. Variety and relationship are the keys to engagement.
Our P.E. activities change from season to season. We have participated in swim team, homeschool soccer and baseball programs, regular walks with friends, horseback vaulting, ballet, fitness DVDs for children, tennis, gymnastics, and even Nerf gun wars! I stay with an interest as long as a child remains enthusiastic. They must, of course, finish up their initial commitment to a formal program; but I want to retain their enthusiasm for fitness in general, so I allow them to try new activities when they’ve finished exploring a sport.
Variety is important within a weekly schedule, too. I’ve found that my children are far more willing to participate if we do several very different activities from day to day. Varying the mix also ensures that their bodies’ exercise needs are met, as they must work different muscle groups in different ways with each form of exercise.
Friendships are also a big motivating factor in the homeschool exercise program. Children look forward to seeing their friends in any context, including exercise. Besides being fun, the presence of friends takes the edge off those grueling abdominal crunches at track club! Friendly competition pushes kids to perform better than they would alone. And of course we parents relish the opportunity to visit with adult friends while our kids exercise. We might even don our track shoes and burn up some calories ourselves!
When arranging regular activities with friends, be sure to invite people who are likely to stick with the program. The accountability of another dependable family waiting at the park is very helpful. If friends aren’t motivated, their sporadic attendance will discourage children and parents alike.
P.E.needn’t be neglected in the homeschool. It can be worked into a schedule with a little forethought, and if friends are involved consistency is almost guaranteed. But, we are dealing with a deep economic recession. Many homeschool families find that sports activities are financially burdensome. In the next article, we’ll consider ways to keep our exercise programs cost effective.