Teaching Elementary PE: Great Power, Great Responsibility

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I will never forget the first time I felt a strong connection with the idea of teaching physical education at the elementary level. I had just begun the clinical portion of the PE program at my university, which allowed me to observe and teach at multiple levels before narrowing my focus for student teaching. When it came time to observe and teach at the elementary level, I was immediately drawn to everything that comes with elementary physical education! And what stuck with me the most, as I progressed through the other levels, was the feeling of great responsibilities an elementary PE teacher inherits. To me, that was a powerful observation that separated the elementary level from the rest. My target level had been decided and I welcomed the challenge of taking on these perceived responsibilities.

Responsibility of Social Growth

As an elementary physical education teacher, whether your program starts at preschool, kindergarten, or first grade, you will have a powerful opportunity to strengthen the social skills of your students and provide impactful experiences that will shape each individual student. For some students, your PE class will be the first time they will experience being asked to share (equipment), wait their turn, practice responsibility and safety, be compassionate and empathetic towards others, be a good teammate, and communicate with classmates and you, the teacher. All of these components of social growth will exist in even the simplest of lessons, and that is truly powerful.

Responsibility of Emotional Growth

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Just like social development, there are many opportunities for emotional growth in an elementary physical education setting. With every opportunity for social skills to grow, there is an emotional component to that experience. How will a student handle experiencing a classmate not wanting to share equipment or follow a rule in an activity? What will the reaction be when a student perceives their action as successful or a failure towards an objective or task, especially in a large group setting? As an elementary PE. teacher, you will have the opportunity to support growth in these areas through discussion, sharing, guiding, and teaching your students ways to view and handle these situations, which will add to the emotional growth of the student. To me, it is an awesome opportunity to be able to help students grow these skills, especially if that results in a positive, long-term connection with physical activity and the ability to identify their own emotions in response to different outcomes in life.

Building a Connection to Health and Movement

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Maybe the most obvious – but just as important- an elementary physical education teacher has the amazing opportunity of creating a positive connection for students towards PE through mindfulness of health awareness and movement. Having the opportunity to lay the foundation for students to understand the strong link between a physically active lifestyle and the many health and wellness benefits is truly special and only exists in physical education! Strong muscles and bones, a healthy diet, understanding how the human body works, finding a sport, skill, game, or concept that inspires movement for the future – you get to be the first to introduce these concepts to your students and ensure a positive, life-long connection is established. How awesome is that?!?!

For those who are just beginning their career in elementary physical education, I hope I have provided some insight on the many different areas of student growth that can be positively impacted through elementary PE. Having the ability to ensure a positive beginning to a student’s relationship with movement, health, social, and emotional growth is a powerful and rewarding responsibility that makes teaching at the elementary level truly special.

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