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Vaccinate Your Kids Against P.E.

One of the unanticipated horrors of facilitating the in person schedule of children attending virtual elementary school is that I'm subjected to P.E.

I thought I was free from that nightmare forever. Maybe you're one of the few individuals for whom P.E. was fun. If that's the case, I'm happy for you that you had that privilege. (I suspect all of us have some figurative scars.) Let me tell you, for most of us the school days with P.E. on the schedule were our least favorite days of the week.

Children, white, do exercises via video chat online, kids jump and dance in the living room. Siblings do exercises together in front of a laptop. Activity and video tutorials for children at home. By Natalia Lebedinskaia

We anticipated a tense hour. Is a class about games and wellness supposed to leave us stressed?

Muscles in action need to be ready for a flex and release dynamic. Is it health-promoting to set folks up to be tense while moving? The years of repeated abuse left us with the lifetime task of overwriting harmful messaging about who we are and how our bodies exist in the world. And therapy ain't cheap!

As I consider how to advocate for my future kids to never set foot in (or turn a screen onto) a gym class, I am grateful at least that I have fast answers ready when things come up with other people's children in my care.

We can't prevent them from being exposed to diet culture or healthism. We can offer ideas that challenge their messages.

A child asked me, "Why did my P.E. teacher send a workout video for the day we don't have class and say if we don't do it we have to do 30 minutes of walking?" Unhelpful answer: You have to exercise for 30 minutes every day to be healthy. Creative answer: Your teacher wants to connect with you, so since you don't have class today, they sent a video of some ways of moving that they like so you can see if you like it too.

The part that's been triggering for me to witness is the "have to" of it all.

I agree that movement is important for wellbeing. I'm not anti-health.

Three children, white, are engaged in dancing, aerobics in video chat online with laptop, siblings dancing in front of laptop camera. kids remote sports and dancing, children's sports sections online.  By Natalia Lebedinskaia

If it's not fun, it's not about wellbeing. It's about authority. I'd like the exercises offered to be invitations, not requirements.

I would like to take the morality out of it. Your child isn't bad if they don't want to or can't do x amount of mountain climbers in any particular moment (or ever). Athletes can struggle in their training. Sure. That's a choice. Fun might not be the priority there. But we're talking about Elementary School students.

People have different needs and abilities.

Young people can be harmed by black and white rules about what's healthy. They can be harmed by the message that health is achieved through hard work.

That message ignores the impossibly long list of health determinants that have nothing to do with individual choice.

Either the child is moving 30 minutes or more per day already -- because that's what kids do naturally -- or they aren't, and turning movement into a set of external rules about what and how much is not a good starting place for bringing them into joyful movement for life.

child girl white is engaged in dancing, aerobics in online video chat with laptop, girl dancing in front of laptop camera.concept of remote sports and dancing in children, children's sports sections online. By Natalia Lebedinskaia

Let them be little. Let them play. I joined the child in my care in a workout video sent by their gym teacher on their day off from gym class. We made it silly. We ignored parts we didn't want to do. We laughed.

When it was over, the child danced like a noodle to the Hamster Dance four times in a row and invented a kicking while laying down on the floor dance that we all agreed was hilarious. The kids should teach the class. Serious suggestion.

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