Physical Education – The Homeschool Way

As a homeschooling parent, how do you handle gym classes? Perhaps, you have your kids take lessons, compete, or play team sports. Then your role as a parent is to drive your kids to and from their sports activities and wait for them there. But we homeschoolers know that kids learn best by example and inspiration. Wouldn’t it be great if you exercise regularly around your kids so they can see you as their role model?

Like reading, fitness should be a lifestyle habit which we want our kids to enjoy and practice regularly throughout their lives. It’s great when kids read at a group storytime or at a book club, but don’t we want them to also read on their own time, for personal learning and pleasure, without any prompting? Just like books are necessary for our education, fitness is invaluable to our health, but on that premise alone it’s hard to keep up with it once we get older and busier. We have to enjoy it to keep doing it. Moreover, it will be easier for us to stay consistent if we reduce our dependence on external conditions, such as a gym or a soccer field. Many athletes get out of shape once they quit their career. Many people stop exercising when they discontinue their gym membership. If your kids play team sports, chances are they will lose interest once their team dissolves. If their sport depends on a physical location, such as a mountain trail or a tennis court, then your kids may stop playing the sport altogether if the location becomes unavailable or if the weather is not appropriate.

In order for us and our kids to stay in shape all the time, we shouldn’t depend on external conditions which can create excuses to stop exercising. We have to send a message to our kids that fitness can be an integral and fun part of one’s lifestyle and that it can be done anywhere, even with no equipment or team present. Only when our kids see us doing it regularly will they follow our example, so the best way to teach this concept is to practice what we preach and make fitness part of our own daily routine. And for that to happen, exercise has to be enjoyable, inexpensive, and easy to keep up.

Many of us don’t have the time and sufficient babysitting help to go to the gym regularly. Not all of us have the budget to hire a visiting personal trainer, and we often can’t count on dedicated friends who would commit to be our regular exercise partners. As with many other things in our homeschooling lives, we have to rely on ourselves.

As homeschooling parents, we are in a unique position to have the flexibility to allocate regular time for exercise and to teach fitness habits to our kids by having them alongside us, observing and learning by example. The best thing is, we don’t need to pay for gym membership or babysitting in order for us to get into a consistent and effective workout routine.

Exercise at home

With a relatively small upfront investment, you can purchase some inexpensive gear and a set of workout DVDs to exercise at home. Of course, if you are fitness-savvy, you can make up your own routine, but I like group video workouts because they already have the routine for you to follow along. Besides, exercising with a virtual group, to a vibrant music and instructor’s jokes is more fun, even though you have to listen to the same jokes every time you play the workout.

There are a variety of workouts available for home use. The ones I have tried are Focus T25, UFC Fit, and P90X. Depending on the workout you choose, the gear required is usually a few dumbbells of varying weights or a barbell with weight plates, a mat, a resistance band, a balance ball, or a pull-up bar. Often, no gear is necessary at all.

Many workout products urge you to follow their prescribed schedules or to keep a log to track your progress. Just like with the rest of your homeschooling, you can be flexible and creative here because it’s the journey that matters, not the final result. You don’t have to be under pressure to grow muscle quick or to lose a certain number of pounds in a specific time period. Just have fun exercising and stick with it. Also, you don’t have to complete the entire workout at once. Workouts are usually 40-60 minutes long, but you can break up one workout into a couple of sessions of, say, 25 minutes or whatever is comfortable for you, and do one session a day, then repeat or start another workout. Consistency is key, and if shorter sessions make it easier for you to commit, so be it.

Allocate some time during the day to exercise. Remember, you are trying to set an example for your kids, so it’s better to exercise when your kids are around. However, unless your kids are willing to participate, it’s best to pick the time when they can observe you in the background but at the same time can be occupied with another activity so they don’t interrupt you too often. It’s ok if they do interrupt you though. I often have to pause my workout to attend to my kids’ needs. That’s fine, and you can always come back and resume your workout once everything is settled. Just make sure to account for interruptions when you schedule your workout time.

Also, determine how frequently you can exercise each week. You don’t have to do it daily. If your workout is average to light intensity, ideal frequency would be four-five times a week with rest days in between. But in the end it’s consistency that matters, so if you can only commit once or twice per week, it’s okay as long as you stick with it. If you have young children and your schedule is unpredictable, your allocated times and days may vary each week. That too is okay, as long as you keep exercising as one of your priorities and make the most of it any time you get a chance.

Exercise outdoors

When I am out on a playground with my kids, I always see fellow moms chatting or thumbing on their phones, but never do I see anyone exercising. Why not? A playground is one of the best places for a mom to work out: fresh air, abundant equipment, no need for babysitting, no gym fee, and lots of free time with nothing to do. By surfing the web you can find plenty of park workout ideas. You can also find a variety of bodyweight exercises. To give you some examples, here is a very resourceful site with short video clips.

As I go out with my kids, I always take my jump rope so I can do some skipping, especially on a playground that is covered with rubber for extra cushioning. I also do stretching and shadowboxing. It’s fun to practice bobbing and weaving around a swinging baby! Sometimes I jog around the park while keeping an eye on my kids. In addition to the usual benefits of cardio, it helps to stay warm while we’re out during the cold winter days.

Don’t make New Year resolutions; those are rarely kept. Just pick a couple of exercises you are comfortable with, try them the next time you are out with the kids, then repeat the next day, day after day. Remember, what’s important is consistency, not quantity or intensity level. If you pick two or three comfortable exercises and do them every time, occasionally varying your routines and sometimes challenging yourself to a new exercise, you will gradually get better. A day will come when your kids will be impressed and inspired when you crunch out a few pull-ups in front of them and their friends. Who doesn’t want to be a cool mom?

Workout with a baby

If you have a small baby, no need to juggle working out and snuggling with your baby. You can exercise together! Dig up some slow and gentle barbell or kettlebell exercises and use your baby as a weight. Be creative and your baby will love it. I’ve tried deadlifts while gently holding my baby against my chest. It was an awesome exercise for my back, and a great way to sooth my baby. She laughed, and we both enjoyed it. The best thing is, the heavier your baby, the better workout you get! Here is a blog post with some baby workout ideas.

Of course, you should be careful to avoid injuries and check with your doctor if you have any health problems. Usually though, there is a workout for anyone, and, needless to say, exercise is essential for our health, energy, clear mind, and good mood. We all know that, yet we often feel too lazy to do something that’s good for us. Then keep this in mind: if you don’t do it for yourself, do it for your kids. Your kids want to see their mom being active and in shape. Your kids want to learn how to exercise not from their gymnastics instructor or their soccer coach, but from you.

We, homeschoolers, know that “early education” is not necessary, that kids can learn anything at any age as long they are motivated. We know that it doesn’t matter at what age kids start reading or counting or playing an instrument, as long as they enjoy doing it and stick with it from then on. However, I think that fitness is the only thing our kids should indeed learn as early as possible. Starting regular exercise early will help maintain your kids’ good health, will teach them the right habits and proper form, and will help avoid injuries later on.