Goshen News, Goshen, IN

August 11, 2013

WHOLE FAMILY: Physical education can be ideal when its functional


— One of the wildly difficult, but crucial, responsibilities of a homeschooling parent is choosing curricula. It’s a wildly difficult task for a few reasons: One, there is a crazy, overwhelming amount of options from which to choose. Google shows 313,000+ results for “homeschool curricula.” I’ll choose fewer than 10.

Then there’s figuring out what each child needs in content, in teaching style, in format, in assessment. There’s cost, functionality, efficacy and even social or peer pressure — to wit: Wonder what that super-smart third-grader down the street uses for math?

Also part of your selection process is deciding if you’ll develop curricula yourself or buy ones someone else has already put together for you. Throw in consideration of education standards of a state or a college or a career choice your child might make, and choosing curricula can be enough to bring on a mama meltdown.

But I like this kind of thing. If I have the time, I enjoy perusing all the options, thinking through how well they might or might not work, imagining what my children might do with whatever curriculum I’m considering. I like that, in the end, I get to make the choice and the purchase and, as a homeschooler, can make all the amendments I want to. (We often do “school” at odd hours and in odd places — in pajamas, even — while merely using the textbook as a place to start exploring.)

One subject for which I’ve been looking for a good curriculum for a few years now is physical education, or what we called gym class. Oh, it’s out there. Really great teachers and others have developed programs that, I’m sure, are thorough and successful. But each year I would look — almost buy something — and think, “Nope, that’s not quite it.”

Here’s why: When it comes to physical education (“PE”), I am far more interested in my children learning about health, wellness and fitness than I am in them learning how to play sports. Not that sports are bad or anything. We kick around a soccer ball now and then, and my oldest son thrived at his first shot at basketball at a day camp this summer.

Sports are all right. It’s just they don’t unequivocally transfer to everyday life, and teaching my children how to navigate everyday life is much more important to me than whether or not they know the rules of tennis or can make a lay-up.

So I discovered a children’s gym class at a local CrossFit gym. CrossFit, if you’re unfamiliar with it, is a fitness philosophy, really. It is a sanctioned sport — as in has professional athletes and champions and all that — but it’s the sort of sport most anyone can do. That includes me, by the way, a middle-aged mother who had never lifted a barbell until a few months ago and now can lift one — with a little weight on it, even — over her head.

So my children went to the CrossFit gym class, and I found what I was looking for, both for them and for me. Turns out, what I was looking for already had a name: Functional fitness. When one of the trainers said that phrase, “functional fitness,” it resonated with me. Yes!

What is functional fitness? Well, it’s the idea that any “gym” we might do is geared toward developing and improving strength, agility, flexibility and endurance — and here’s the point — for the purpose of being prepared for everyday life situations. I love that.

When we were more of an agrarian society, people became and stayed “functionally fit” just by living life. Ever heaved straw bales or carried gallons of feed or water around? Hoed a garden? Squatted and pulled weeds for hours? Right. Good hard work that both requires and develops strength, endurance, agility and flexibility.

Since many of us, including our precious children, spend much of our time sitting in front of computers rather than heaving straw bales, it’s safe to say we could use a little purposeful functional fitness.

It’s so simple, it’s brilliant. It’s so simple it’s probably not appealing to people looking for a sexier PE class. Instead of fancy equipment, functional fitness includes tried-and-true exercises like push-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups and jumping jacks. Seriously, I did jumping jacks the other day and thought, “I haven’t done a jumping jack since fourth grade.” We jump rope. We play leap frog.

Functional fitness includes running — short, fast runs rather than long jogs — as well as climbing, stepping up and down and lifting things from the ground to over our heads. (This functional fitness model is great for mothers of 30-pound toddlers. I do a lot of lifting.)

So this is the new PE curriculum we’re using — functional fitness. I don’t have it all pulled together yet, but I’m excited to watch this curriculum develop. In fact, any other families interested, I’d love to hear from you. Maybe we can have a functional fitness club. Be in touch.

On the web

- Local CrossFit children’s class: www.crossfitraze.com

- Functional fitness on WebMD: http://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/features/working-out-for-real-life-functions

Goshen News columnist Stephanie Price is a wife, mother, teacher, childbirth educator, midwife’s assistant and nursing student from Elkhart. Contact her at wholefamily@goshennews.com, 269-641-7249 or on Facebook at the page “Whole Family Column by Steph Price.”