Fresh Ideas: Kids can help other kids learn how to stay active

Well, once again the Olympic Games are here and high-minded children across America are clamoring for more physical education. NOT.

The problem is our kids are getting less physical education all the time.

Statistics show that only 25 percent of schools now require PE, down from 42 percent in 1991. This is a reason that one in every four schoolchildren in America is obese.

Worse yet, kids don't even realize they're not active. A Harvard study found that kids' perceptions don't match reality. Surprise surprise. Kids who estimated they had put in an hour of vigorous exercise the previous day had in fact only spent two minutes at it.

Yes, my friends, we got Trouble. Right here in Carson City. I recently learned that Carson Middle School doesn't require PE anymore, but kids can substitute music classes. While I'm all for music, I fear that many adolescent girls will decide it's not cool to exercise, and go for bell ringing instead. If they don't exercise now they probably never will and that means health problems for the rest of their lives.

One hopes that the Olympics can make a difference. But I'm not sure that watching the Olympics actually motivates people to exercise.

Between the multiple car ads ("Like a Crock!"), the Coke ads and the fast food ads (two-for-one tacos with double sour cream), the message that we should exercise and eat right to stay fit is somewhat obscured. Watching the athletes splash and sweat and bounce makes me want to snuggle down under the covers and snooze. And hope that if I have to make a trip to the fridge or McDonalds during the show I don't injure myself on the way.

Besides, I think that to the average kid the Olympians don't seem quite real.

They are superhuman. They have to sacrifice too much. Even the most up and coming little athlete knows her chances of being one of them are slim. And the kids who seek to emulate them are probably already jocks.

No, what we need to activate our inactive kids are flesh and blood local role models. We parents are obvious candidates. We should be able to find a way to take our kids out for exercise three times a week for an hour - walking, biking, skiing, playing football, soccer, tennis. Today is a great day to start. It's National Love Your Body Day.

Teachers are also obvious role models. They're supposed to do an hour of PE a week in the grade schools, besides teaching the three Rs, team work, and how not to throw food in the lunch room. In other words, teachers' plates are already way full. When under the gun many of them blow off the PE part of the job.

So I have an idea. Why not develop a fleet of "student-teachers" of PE?

Require the high school and college kids involved in athletics to spend an hour or two a week teaching PE to the younger kids. And make it an option for high school PE classes, so that any student could do it for credit.

There are several potential benefits. It would free up the teachers to do other things during PE period (if they had to supervise the student-teacher, they could take paperwork outside and keep an eye on things). It would show the grade schoolers that exercise is cool. Since littler kids love bigger kids who are nice to them, it would give them true motivation to become active.

Benefits to the student-teachers would be equally great. They would learn the rewards of volunteering and get credits in teaching, PE, and community service. They'd have job experience and volunteerism to show on resumes and college applications. And they'd find out if teaching or PE is something they want to pursue as a career.

Considering that high school students get little PE themselves this plan would help their health too. Plus, it would be more worthwhile and fun than watching a video about bears, which is what the PE class did when I visited Carson High.

Instilling physical education and volunteerism in our high-school kids would have long-term benefits to our community.

Heck, it's worth a try, ain't it?


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