Physical Education, instruction and training in physical activity in order to promote bodily development and fitness. The term is usually applied to organized programs that are part of a school curriculum. Such programs include systematic physical exercises and active sports.

In the United States, informal but supervised physical activities are begun at the kindergarten level. Formal physical education classes are offered, and usually required, in the higher elementary grades, high school, and many colleges. Physical education may be conducted by a regular classroom teacher, or by a teacher with special training in the subject.

The principal aim of physical education is to promote and maintain the individual's physical fitness, and to help him or her develop muscle skills. Educators stress that physical education also helps an individual develop a sense for fair play, leadership skills, and a respect for rules and authority. They believe that physical fitness contributes to mental health and ability as well.

Physical Education Programs

A good physical education program provides for periodic medical examinations, and periodic tests to determine progress toward desired goals. It offers special classes for students unable to participate in regular physical education classes.

Educators consider extracurricular activities that involve physical exercise to be an extension of a school's physical education program. As such, supervised play at recess and during the noon hour, and even school-sponsored dances, are valued as part of a broadly defined program. The most common extracurricular activities of a physical nature are intramural ("within the walls") and inter-scholastic and intercollegiate sports. Educators stress the importance of intramural sports, because they give all interested students a chance to participate.

Elementary Grade Programs

From kindergarten through third grade, physical education periods are short (about 15 minutes). They consist of simple but vigorous games and rhythmic exercises and folk dances to music. From fourth through sixth grade, the periods are longer (20 to 40 minutes). Rhythmic exercises and dances are continued. Practice in special athletic skills and team sports are introduced.

Middle School Programs

At the middle school, or junior high school, level (6th-8th, 7th-8th, or 7th-9th grades), individual and team sports are emphasized. Calisthenics and dancing are also part of the physical education curriculum. Periods normally last 40 to 50 minutes. Many schools provide interscholastic competition in such sports as cross-country running, basketball, volleyball, soccer, and track and field. Intramural competition may also be provided in those sports as well as in touch or flag football and softball.

High School Programs

A greater variety of activities is offered to meet the widely varying needs of adolescents. Wrestling, tennis, badminton, track and field, swimming, and gymnastics are included in high school programs, if facilities are available. Such team sports as basketball, softball, soccer, volleyball, field hockey, and football are popular. Instruction in hygiene and safety is expanded.

College Programs

College physical education classes are of two types—those stressing physical activity and those that are primarily academic in content. Classes of the first type are designed for the student body as a whole; in some colleges there are, in addition, specialized classes for athletes involved in intercollegiate sports. The academic classes are intended mainly for students training to become physical education teachers or pursuing advanced degrees in the field.

American Alliance For Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance,

founded in 1885, is the principal national organization for promoting physical fitness in the United States. AAHPERD has a membership of more than 40,000, consisting of physical education teachers and others. Its headquarters are in Reston, Virginia.

History of Physical Education

The ancient Greeks were the first to make physical training a formal part of the educational system. In ancient Rome, and in medieval Europe, physical training was neglected except for military purposes.

In the 18th and early 19th centuries, German and Scandinavian educators reemphasized physical training. Friedrich Ludwig Jahn (1778–1852) developed popular gymnastic exercises in Prussia. In England and, later, the United States, sports became dominant in the curriculum.

The first department of physical education in the United States was opened at Amherst College in 1860. In 1861 the first school to prepare teachers of physical education was opened in Boston. After 1900 expansion and improvement of physical education programs was rapid. However, during World Wars I and II, a large number of young men were rejected by the United States Armed Forces as physically unfit. After each war, physical education in the United States received greater emphasis.