School separates exercise into something different from our main job. When we started homeschooling, one of the biggest shifts I had to make in my own thinking is that exercise is not school. I had to teach myself, every time my kids were playing, that learning is not divided between academics and gym, learning is both parts.
It is not natural to distinguish between leisure time and work time. If you are doing what you love, and what you feel like doing when you feel like doing it, then you fit fun and games into your normal, every day life. Robert Wheeler points out in the Journal of Contemporary History that with the advent of factories, people had to schedule time for leisure. And when kids started going to school for factory worker training, it also trained them to separate sport and work in school.
So I thought to myself: what would adult life look like if someone told me that exercise is as important as reading and writing?
The first thing I think is that I wouldn’t be so fast to give it up as an adult. What we model for kids is that play is important, when we make time for gym in the midst of academics. But as we get older, there is no gym class.
School teaches us that anything important is taught in a class, and there is no class for exercise, so exercise is not important. Ironically, high school health classes might do the most damage in this regard because they are generally not required for the smartest kids but only the kids who “couldn’t handle” the regular science track. And, of course, these classes are for studying exercise in a book instead of doing actually doing it.
We could talk about reinstating gym class. Which is a popular topic. But that is not likely to happen because gym is expensive, and also, kids don’t get tested on gym, so school districts don’t like to give up potential test prep hours for gym time.
Instead of talking about reinstating gym, I think we should talk about ending the cultural idea that if something is important, there is a class for it. Because this sends kids away thinking that the wide range of stuff they enjoy that is not a subject in school is not worthy of their time.
Once you take away the idea of proscribed learning, kids have a sense that whatever they are interested in is important. And they have a sense that if they feel like playing and exercising, it’s important too. When you give a kid freedom to have self-directed learning, you don’t need to tell them what to learn or what interests them, and you don’t need to tell them when to play or when to exercise.