Bring Back The Joy

What is the purpose of Physical Education? My purpose in physical education is to provide lessons that are enjoyable, a safe atmosphere, and a setting where students will learn the knowledge and skills that lead to a lifelong love of movement. Let’s unpack the enjoyment part of physical education. Joy is the number one outcome I look for in each lesson. Our mission for our students is to create a lifelong love of movement, which has to come with the idea that no one does anything they hate voluntarily. It is not enough to simply teach that movement is important for our health and wellness. Look at how teachers in the profession, who know and understand the benefits of movement, do not move in their free time. The cognitive understanding that movement equals wellness is only one part of the base we need to teach. The other part we need as the base of Physical Education is that movement is enjoyable.

The evidence is overwhelming that our students want to have fun in Physical Education. “In a study by Cothran and Ennis (1997), students ranked fun, good grades and time with friends as their top three outcomes for physical education. In a follow-up study, both students and teachers ranked fun as the number-one objective of a physical education class (Cothran, 2013).” (3) Do we need studies to know that kids want to enjoy their experiences in Physical Education? The real question is why we forget what it is like to be a child? Why would anyone make a lesson that doesn’t have enjoyment as a main focus? Maybe we should ask ourselves if we would want to be a participant in the classes if we were the student.

If we were going to allow ourselves to go to the extreme would you rather your students experience joy in your class or learn content knowledge? I would choose joy. Obviously joy without knowledge is not optimal but if I were forced to choose only one it would be joy. Sometimes we become so focused on standards and grade level outcomes that we miss out on the very basic fact that people do not partake in activities that they do not find joy in. If our students do not like to move will they do it outside of the compulsory class we call Physical Education? “Consistent with these tenets, within the PE realm there appears to be a tendency to make PE fun with the prospect that this will facilitate students’ lifetime PA participation (Garn & Cothran, 2006).”(1) Doesn’t that seem logical to you?

I would imagine that if we asked people does movement make you healthy most people if not all would answer yes. If this is true why don’t they do it? They may give you the excuses of time, energy, kids, or environment. While all those may be true don’t we make time for things we enjoy? Ask those same people what tv shows they watch, books they read, games they play on their phone, or movies they go to and I am sure they will rattle off an impressive list. It is not enough that children understand that movement and wellness go hand in hand. They have to be shown how movement can be enjoyable as well as beneficial.

Our professional organizations have recognized the need for enjoyment in our classes. “The Ontario Curriculum, Grades 1-8: Health and Physical Education, Interim Edition was revised in 2010 and now mentions enjoyment 44 times, as compared to a mere three references in its previous 1998 version (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2010).” (4) SHAPE America’s standards 5 states, “The physically literate individual recognizes the value of physical activity for health, enjoyment, challenge, self-expression and/or social interaction.” (link) Why are we still concentrating all of our efforts on content knowledge when our higher ups have clearly given us the directive that we need to incorporate enjoyment into our subjects? The evidence supports this goal. “Elementary school students’ having fun, obtaining benefits, and being with friends were all major motivational factors contributing to positive attitudes toward PA (physical activity) outside of school.” (2)

“However, reducing PE to just fun may not result in long-term adoption of PA and maintenance of fitness across the lifespan.” (1) I am not advocating for a roll out the ball philosophy. Nor am I stating that enjoyment is the ONLY factor that produces a love of lifelong movement in our students. As an elementary teacher, I am responsible for teaching my students my psychomotor power standards. The ones most important to me are to establish mastery of locomotor movements as well as proficiency of the overhand throw, kick, catching a projectile, striking, and moving in personal and general space. My students also need to know body parts, rules of activities, how their body works, and healthy foods. Our job is to find a way to have every student make a positive connection with those lessons. This means subscribing to the idea that joy and learning both need to be present if my lessons are going to be successful.

I would recommend to anyone that wants to hear more about joy in Physical Education listen to Andy Vasily’s Run Your Life podcast with Scott Kretchmar. One quote from the episode of Mr. Kretchmar’s was “When movement is experienced as joy, it adorns our lives, makes our days go better, and gives us something to look forward to. When movement is joyful and meaningful, it may even inspire us to do things we never thought possible.” (5) That poetry of movement is a feeling I want my students to experience and embrace. It is the same feeling I had as a child waiting for the end of the day to play in my soccer game, pitch in my baseball game, or wrestle in my match. I experience the same feeling now waiting for Wednesday nights so I can play old man basketball. This is what excited me about movement as a child and keeps me excited about movement as an adult. I want to pass this same love on to my students.

My final thought is that there is a difference between fun and enjoyment. I will leave you with this lasting quote. “Fun is only momentary satisfaction and it links not with either universal purpose or everlasting value while joy is forever integrated with truth and goodness. Fun is affiliated with transitory existence and even permanent death whereas joy is inseparable from Life and Eternity.” link Don’t we want our students to experience joy in Physical Education?

Works Cited

Ferkel, Rick C., et al. “Beyond “Fun”: The Real Need in Physical Education.” Physical Educator, vol. 74, no. 2, Apr. 2017, pp. 255-268. EBSCOhost, doi:10.18666/TPE-2017-V74-I2-7426.
Physical education; findings from W.Y. chen and co-researchers in the area of physical education reported (elementary school students’ self-determination in physical education and attitudes toward physical activity). (2015). Education Letter
El-Sherif, J. (2016). THE VALUE OF FUN in physical activity. Strategies, 29(2), 3-8.
Lorusso, J. R., Pavlovich, S. M., & Lu, C. (2013). Developing student enjoyment in physical education. Physical & Health Education Journal, 79(2), 14-18.
Kretchmar, Scott R. “The Increasing Utility of Elementary School Physical Education: A Mixed Blessing and Unique Challenge.”The Elementary School Journal. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 May 2017. <>.