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What if the Experiences Children Have in Physical Education are Life Changing?

I grew up in a very average American household in Greensburg Kansas. I lived a comfortable life. My mom was a stay-at-home mom, and my dad had a well-paying job. I had one older brother. We enjoyed family vacations, and never really went “without.” I graduated, went to college, and earned my first degree. There was no “trauma” in my life. In early 2006 my world begin to crumble. I had an amazing husband as well as the sweetest little 2.5 year old boy. Life was good, but the trauma was lurking.

What if the Experiences Children Have in Physical Education are Life Changing?

“The Dr. called back and wants your mom and I to be in his office tomorrow morning at 8 am,” said my dad. At the age of 56 he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Four months later, he finished his fight. My world was shattered, the funeral was a blur, my life was turned upside down. Nine months later, my hometown (including my parents, brother and family, grandma, aunts, uncles homes) was leveled by a EF5 tornado. That perfect world I lived in literally and figuratively came crashing down. Trauma, oh man did I face trauma. In between those life altering events, I experienced two miscarriages. Trauma.

I teach in a school that houses approximately 400 students in grades K-5. We are about a 80% free and reduced lunch school. For the majority of my students, school is the BEST place they can be. They are warm, they are fed, they are safe, and most importantly they are LOVED. The majority of my students live in a less than “average” homes. The majority of my students come from broken families. Some are raised by grandparents or other family members. Drugs are a norm for some of my students.

What if the Experiences Children Have in Physical Education are Life Changing?

In the past, some of my students have lived in a van. One student cried revealing that she slept in her kitchen because her dad had left and she was waiting on him to come back. This year I had a student in constant trouble, he later told me he sleeps on a couch. A couch where something bites his arms every night (bite marks are evident). He also has told his teacher it’s just hard to adjust after a move. Some of my students have had their siblings commit suicide. I’ve had students lose their mother to cancer- these same kids never had a father.

So flashback to my “trauma.” Not to diminish what I went through, because it was the toughest two years of my life. But my “trauma” was temporary. NO ONE asked me to come to school and learn. No ONE asked me to hold my feelings in. NO ONE asked me to produce work. NO ONE told me it was wrong to be angry. Even better, I had an amazing supportive family, and a ton of friends who helped me each step of the way. They checked on me, helped me, and LOVED me through it.

Newsflash, YOU have students like mine. Maybe you don’t have as many, maybe you have more. Trauma is everywhere. Toxic stress creates lifelong problems.

If you have chance, take the ACES (Adverse Childhood Experience Questionnaire) quiz.

Take it to learn about yourself, better yet, take it while imagining the most challenging student that you teach.

Then watch this video: How childhood trauma affects health across a lifetime by Nadine Burke Harris

It’s a little long, but it’s worth EVERY SINGLE MINUTE of your time.

This post isn’t intended to make you feel sad, discouraged or even helpless. Rather the intent is to help you better understand your students. I hope in that someway, as a fellow Physical Education/Health teacher it helps you reach EACH one of your students, and then allows those students to learn healthy lifestyles in your classroom.

As Physical Education and Health teachers, we have an important role in the lives of our students. I feel like the experiences children have in Physical Education can be life changing. Yep, that’s a bold statement....but I stand by it. If our kids are not given a chance to learn healthy, lifelong lessons, then how will they become healthy adults? I have recently had the opportunity to serve on the “Redesign team” for the Kansas Department of Education. One of my roles is to consult with other PE and Health teachers about the importance of quality Physical Education, as well as teaching Social and Emotional Health.

When speaking with a couple of Physical Education teachers (as well as a team of teachers from the school) I explained to them “our job is not to create athletes in Physical Education, instead our job it to help kids learn how to be healthy, so that one day they can be healthy adults.” This is what guides my own lesson planning.

Am I teaching my students to be healthy? Am I making them feel better about themselves? Do my students know I care about them, even if they cannot do 10 consecutive push-ups? Do they know they are valued regardless of how coordinated they are when completing an obstacle course? I am far from perfect, but I am working so hard at recognizing WHAT I am teaching, as well as EVERY student I am teaching.

Those students referenced earlier, deserve to be taught how to be healthy too…but, it’s hard. It’s hard for me, and it’s even harder for them. I don’t have the perfect answer. I don’t have a quick fix. What I do have is an ability to try and figure it out. Rather than “giving up” on a student because they constantly defy me, I am working on figuring out why. Most likely, something else is going on in their lives. I see them for 25 minutes a day, something else is causing them to act out.

This may mean I need to ask hard questions, I need to give them one on one attention. Setting them in “Timeout” is probably only going to make them feel worse and it’s a quick, temporary fix.

It could be that they couldn’t sleep the night before because their home was hosting a party. It could be that they don’t have a parent at home at night because that’s when they work. I have to be aware of what it “could be.”

Here are some simple changes I have made over the last couple of years. Most of these I learned from someone else.

Home bases are gone. Most lines on my gym floor are gone. When my students walk into the gym, they find their “family.” Sometimes we call it their squad. A simple high five, or handshake occur, then they jump into our instant activity. They have people in the gym who they know care about them. I don’t need them to set down and stare at the back of someone’s head. I don’t need them to “hold still” while I talk. What I need is for them to get moving. I need them to get their mind and body ready to learn, in a way that best works for THEM (not ME)! I don’t need them to run five laps, but I do need them to move their bodies for 5 minutes before we dive into our lesson. I do need them to learn activities that are going to make them feel better about themselves.

For some students that may mean that they need to throw a ball that is lighter than their classmate’s. No matter what, I need them to feel safe, I need them to feel strong, I need them to feel loved. What if a student remembers that they felt strong, healthy and loved while in Physical Education? What if that feeling helps them deal the toxic stress they endure? What if that feeling takes them to a place free from trauma? What if that feeling allows them to respond in a different way?

What if the experiences children have in Physical Education are life changing?

Remember that “bold” statement from earlier? Here it is again. What if the experiences children have in Physical Education are life changing? What if?


April Baugh has a Masters of Education from Fort Hayes Sate University and been teaching physical education and health for 10 years at Linn Elementary in Dodge City KS. She has a ESL Endorsement, serves as her district Wellness Coordinator and is the Physical Education/Health Representative for Kansas Department Of Education Redesign Team. In 2016 April was selected for the KATHY Ermler Technology in PE Award (KAHPERD).

April loves connecting, learning, and sharing with the #physed Community and she is very passionate about quality Physed for all students! Follow April Baugh on Twitter: @baugha

and on Facebook at: PEBaugh


Need Resources?

If you need physical education resources for your physical education program, please check out any of my stores at CapnPetesPowerPE, Teachers Pay Teachers, Amazon Ignite, or Teach Simple.

Cap'n Pete's Power PE on TPT, Amazon Ignite and Teach Simple

There you will find hundreds of paid and free resources that include PE activities, games, field day materials, templates, visuals, posters, sign packages, seasonal movement experiences, PowerPoint presentations, and much more

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