SummaryMary Ellen Barrett may not be a major league enthusiast but recognizes the importance of fitness and students learning cooperation and teamwork in sports.
Sports and physical fitness are important in American society. It only takes watching one professional game to realize we are a sports loving people.
We overpay athletes and jump through enormous hoops to procure tickets and watch games, we root wholeheartedly and sincerely for “our team”, and we delve into the depths of despair when they lose.
I’m sorry, but I just don’t get it.
I enjoy baseball, and I have even been lured into caring about a football season or two in my time, but the committed passion of the team enthusiast eludes me. I do, however, recognize the importance of competition in sports, and I am generally in favor of children participating in sports programs.
In the right environment, they learn cooperation, team work, and the valuable life lesson of how to lose gracefully. There is also the important physical fitness side to participating in athletic programs.
We are an increasingly obese society, largely because we are technologically savvy and therefore sedentary. We sit too much, and so do our children.
17% of children ages 2-19 are classified as obese, due in part to fast food consumption and the fact that they spend an average of seven and half hours in front of a screen every day. (Source: CDC National Center for Health Statistics. 2014)
To get a child outside and moving a few times a week is to give them good fitness habits that will hopefully carry on through life and prevent the onslaught of weight-related diseases now plaguing so many older people.
So, as a home educating mom who is more inclined to tea and book than an afternoon at a field, how do I get my children involved in sports or fitness activities that will offer all the benefits of sports programs and not break the bank? It can be done, but as usual, we homeschoolers have to be a little more creative in our approach.
My children have been active participants in our parish sports program. We have done track and basketball. The coaches are volunteers from the parish and passionate about passing along a love of the game to the kids under their tutelage.
The seasons are usually six to eight weeks long, so there is no issue of getting overwhelmed by a constant demand of time and energy, which can often be a problem for moms with children on competition teams. If your parish has no athletic program, check with nearby parishes; living within the parish is not usually a requirement for participation.
If you live in one of those enlightened school districts that allow homeschoolers in their sports programs, you may consider yourself lucky. I would, however, recommend caution when availing yourself of these benefits since, once you are on the school district’s radar, it is very difficult to get off.
Some districts may demand extra paperwork or testing for the privilege of participation. It is wise to examine all the requirements and to realize your child when thrust into the public school football or basketball program, will be exposed to a lot of the things that many of us homeschool to avoid.
Based upon my research and observation, I think most school districts do not allow homeschoolers to participate in their sports or music programs, but this does not mean your child should miss out on the team experience. There are a lot of options available these days, and they need not cost a fortune.
These days, every community has a variety of sports programs. My family has participated in soccer; as a result, my daughter increased her skills and travels with major teams within the league. At this level, our experience was mixed. The coaching was excellent, and my daughter’s team mates, with whom she had grown up through the ranks, were a lovely group of girls.
However, as they succeeded, the competition and commitments grew in intensity. The expense became considerable, and the other coaches, managers, and parents were extremely intent on winning. This is to be expected as children age up in these programs, and while such programs work well for some families, they did not fit into our lifestyle.
If you have a child who is talented athletically and you can handle the level of intensity, the time, and monetary commitments that come with serious competition, these programs are an excellent resource for your child. As students get older, college scouts and scouts from national teams and programs get involved. It is a big family commitment, but worth it for the children who exhibit athletic prowess at a particular sport.
Think Outside the Box
Physical Education, or gym, does not really have to be a traditional team or sport, though. So, if you are not a “team” kind of family, then the options are many, and you can find something that will fit into your lives and fulfill your requirements. Having fun would be nice as well.
The President’s Council on Physical Fitness is an excellent free resource for homeschooling families who wish to increase their level of fitness and learn about wellness and nutrition. Check the guide at this website https://www.pyfp.org/doc/teacher-guide.pdf
There used to be a section in this guide specifically for homeschooled students, but the previous administration did away with that. Now homeschoolers get only a brief mention about their participation, but the program is still an excellent option. Children with special physical needs are included and can participate in every level.
This is an excellent route for homeschoolers who are willing to get up and move but prefer to do so in their own backyard. The website also links to the PALA + program, which promotes physical fitness and good nutrition, and encourages families participation. This could work for both physical education and health in an IHIP if your state requires an Individualized Home Instruction Plan.
Another option for homeschool families is biking. A scheduled weekly family biking outing is an excellent way to maintain fitness, coupled with a bicycle safety program, such as found at www.safetykids.org. Cycling can only be done seasonally in most areas of the country, but remains a great option for both fall and spring and should be considered a viable option.
In the winter months, when stuck in the house, many DVDs, Wii games, and YouTube videos can help with exercise. I enjoy the Leslie Sansone videos. They are designed around walking two, three, four, or five miles with some light weights involved. They are fast-paced, and Mrs. Sansone is very upfront about being a Christian.
The tone of the videos is pleasant and upbeat while the ladies are dressed appropriately but nicely for fitness activities. You need not be embarrassed if your sons are watching. I prefer these adult DVDs to those made for children, because they are quieter and more focused on achieving fitness goals rather than loud music and silly behavior. The Wii Fit is also a good option for gym in the winter.
My last suggestion, and usually the most expensive, is private lessons. We have gone this route a few times for karate, ice skating, archery, and Irish Step Dance. While this can be an expensive option, there are ways to get your children the benefits of private instruction without having to sell one of them to the instructor.
First, do a lot of research. Every school has its own policies, and every owner wants new clients. Perhaps a gym, dojo, or dance studio would do a homeschool class once a week during the day (a time when the businesses are usually empty) for a discount if you can guarantee a certain number of students. Propose a six-week class to begin and see if it works from there. Most people will commit to something short-term.
Many school districts and libraries offer continuing education classes in the evenings. Your high schoolers might benefit from a once a week Zumba class, and if they like it, the instructor can be approached about further classes. Our district offers classes in golf, aerobics, volleyball, boating, and tennis.
Ask about multi-child discounts. I received a considerable discount for our dance classes because I had three girls enrolled, and my high school student taught a class of three year olds. Dance teachers are often glad to have a little extra help with three-year-old classes and are only too willing to give you a couple of dollars off to have an extra pair of hands in the room.
The All Season Exercise
Don’t forget the easiest exercise: simply walking. It is free, widely available, and if you dress appropriately, can be done in all seasons. Walking is heart healthy, and can accommodate all age groups when combined with wagons, strollers, and slings.
You can pair it with science and call it a nature walk. You can combine it with religion and pray the rosary or walk to Mass every day. You can call it home economics and walk to the grocery store, where you can do a little math. How about everyone listens to a book and walk while doing literature? See, an entire curriculum, literally at your feet.
However you include physical fitness into your curriculum, I encourage you to think outside the box and consider your children’s interests and abilities, as well as your own work load and stress levels.
This is one area of homeschool that should help us decompress and teach the children the joy of being fit and healthy and preserving their bodies as the temples of the Holy Spirit they were created to be. Most of all, I would encourage you to participate alongside your children and show them that exercise is necessary for our health, but the real reason to do it is because it’s fun.
And who doesn’t want more fun?