Human beings are composed of Mind, Soul, and Body. As a classical and Christian school, you are right to assume that we care about the mind and soul. But how many classical school graduates do you hear about in the NFL? Did we forget about the body? (The short answer is “no.”)
The education of the body often gets neglected as less important or not worth the time. Sometimes, physical education is seen as only valuable insofar as it results in an athletic scholarship or a means to drain a child’s energy to make his behaviors more manageable in the classroom. Either extreme—spending too much time or too little time in this endeavor—fails to truly educate the body.
In reality, a student’s physical education is often a catalyst for the education of the mind or the soul. To fulfill Cedar Classical Academy’s mission to “cultivate human nature,” it is imperative that we heartily pursue physical education. We seek to develop physically literate human beings who will employ their physicality as a means of health, longevity, grateful stewardship, and, most of all, service to others.
Just as students learn mathematics sequentially and with increasing difficulty and complexity, we teach physical education as a progression. The kindergartners spend their time targeting gross (large muscle) motor skills conducive to whole-body movements like running, jumping, skipping, and stretching. A huge part of kindergartners’ physical education is also working on fine motor skills—working out those tiny muscles in the hands—to help the young student hold a pencil correctly and begin to write.
In the physical education of these young students especially, a key component of the pedagogy is respecting each child’s God-given abilities at that particular time. In other words, we do not expect our kindergartners to have bulging biceps and perfect penmanship, nor do we plan our curriculum as if this were our goal.
In 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Grade, we emphasize the mind-body connection. To this end, the Ready Body Learning Minds curriculum is our framework. This program is informed by the dynamic systems theory of child development which asserts that the human being is composed of several interacting and interdependent systems. This is a fancy way to agree with me that a child—and human—is composed of mind, body, and soul!
According to this interdependent systems framework, cognition (i.e. learning) is intimately tied to our interactions with our environment. This is called “embodied cognition,” which essentially means that when we move, we learn. In light of this, we seek to target these dynamic systems individually, providing the experiences that supplement the incremental education of the mind with the incremental development of the body. In “Motor Lab,” (6-8 times a month in 1st and 2nd grades and 3-4 times a month in 3rd and 4th grades), students complete stations that correspond to at least one of the dynamic systems.
Spinning boards are always a class favorite. These target the child’s vestibular system. Activities such as jumping, pushing, and climbing target the proprioceptive system. Other stations focus on developing hand-eye-foot coordination, locomotor skills, balance, ballwork, and even handwriting to include those fine-motor skills!
Physical Education for 5th and 6th graders involves, like the K-4th graders, manipulative games and some sports skills, but at this stage we introduce a greater emphasis on cardiovascular fitness and strengthening. Students in 5th and 6th grade begin wearing P.E. uniforms and are instructed in fitness for life. We have monthly “tests” for physical skills (such as the sit-up, the plank, or a trail run) where we focus on individual growth, not necessarily a prescribed benchmark.
The 7th graders are taught using the model set forth by LaSierra High School’s Physical Education Program as developed by Stan LeProtti. This model of physical education focuses not on games and sports, but on lifetime fitness activities. Classes incorporate running and strength, with an emphasis on core fitness concepts and moves using proper form. The students follow a very disciplined and organized athletic regimen where they are challenged to perform cardiovascular, calisthenic, and strengthening exercises the correct way. These skills they learn in physical education in the upper school will be skills they ideally carry with them as they grow into happy, healthy, fit adults.
Throughout the course of this progression, there are some pillars that transcend grade level. Underlying every Physical Education class at Cedar Classical Academy are the ideas of control, challenge, virtue, and service.
A word that gets brought up in almost every physical education class is the word “control.” In physical education, one of our chief goals is to gain control over our bodies. Success in this regard can manifest in many different ways. A student may go from running a clumsy 3-minute quarter mile to a consistent and strong 2 minutes. A student may be able to do 50 sit-ups without proper form, and eventually progress to doing 15 sit-ups the right way. These are all examples of a child learning to better control his body.
In another instance, a student may execute each and every exercise to near perfection, but cannot stand still for directions to be given. This is another way we practice controlling our bodies in physical education. I promise each and every student that they will be given the chance to move, but a way that we need to learn to control our bodies is not just to move the right way but to not move when that is required of us. We learn how to move and when to move.
We do a lot of calisthenic stretches that emphasize control as well. I believe that every student can do jumping jacks at lightning speed, but can he remain in rhythm to my 8-counts without speeding up or falling behind? Inspired by classical PE teacher Nathan McClallen, I often instruct the students that “I am looking for you to prove that your brain is in control of your body.”
Another hallmark of our physical education program: Students are challenged physically. Through little successes and positive encouragement from myself and their classmates, the student learns the confidence to do hard things. We track our times and numbers for runs and exercises not to compete with one another but to have tangible proof that what we once could not do, we now can. We tangibly learn the relationship that hard work, practice, and grit have with strength, growth, and achievement.
Students are also challenged in their virtue. The physical education classroom is an arena for virtue. In each of the Lower School physical education classes, students are instructed in how to win with humility and lose without bitterness. Students are challenged to show the fruits of the Spirit (especially self-control!) regardless of the result of a game.
Underlying the emphasis on control, challenge, and virtue is the idea that when we have control over our bodies we can choose what to do and how to be around other people. Ideally throughout the course of a rigorous physical education, we have trained our bodies to best serve others.
Yes, it is with control that I can run a mile without stopping. It is because of virtue that I can encourage my classmates who are struggling rather than boast. It is because I was challenged that I can execute the perfect push-up. I am physically literate so, yes, that allows me to sit up straight in class, stand still during a recitation, and hold a pencil correctly.
But it is also control, challenge, and virtue that enable me to live my life in service to God and others, and that is why physical education is paramount to the education of our students at Cedar Classical Academy (regardless of how many of our alumni become Olympians!).