Physical education provides children with learning opportunities through the medium of movement and contributes to their overall development by helping them to lead full, active and healthy lives.
The physical education curriculum
Physical education is distinguished from other curricular areas by its primary focus on the body and on physical experience and is an integral part of the educational process, without which the education of the child is incomplete. Through a diverse range of experiences providing regular, challenging physical activity, the balanced and harmonious development and general well-being of the child is fostered.
Physical education meets the physical needs of the child and the need for movement experiences, challenges and play. It develops a desire for daily physical activity and encourages constructive use of free time and participation in physical activities in adult life. To fulfil these needs, physical education is built on the principles of variety and diversity, not of specialisation. It provides a wide variety of movement activities appropriate to the level of development of the child.
Through physical education the child can experience the joy of physical exertion and the satisfaction of achievement while developing skills and positive attitudes that enhance self-esteem. Physical education provides opportunities to develop desirable personal and social attributes: the concept of fair play, the acceptance of success and failure, and the ability to co-operate in group situations. These opportunities contribute to the understanding and promotion of a healthy life-style. Physical education, as an integral part of the total curriculum, provides vital opportunities for the physical, social, emotional and intellectual development of the child.
The content of the physical education curriculum
The curriculum is divided into six strands:
- Outdoor and adventure activities
The athletics strand provides a variety of opportunities to engage in the natural activities of running, jumping and throwing. The child needs to learn to associate joyfulness with these experiences. The emphasis should be on exploring and experimenting with the basic movements of walking, running, jumping and throwing through a wide range of informal play experiences. Building on these early experiences, children then develop the techniques of running, jumping and throwing as they progress through the primary school.
Running activities can be devised to encourage children to run and to accept challenges to their personal performances by running faster or by running over a longer distance. Jumping activities will give the child an opportunity to explore various jumps and to develop technique for height and distance. The child participates in throwing activities using objects of different shapes and weights and develops a variety of throwing techniques, improving accuracy and distance.
Dance in education involves the child in creating, performing and appreciating movement as a means of expression and communication. Dance differs from the other aspects of the physical education programme in that the primary concern is with the expressive quality of movement and the enjoyment and appreciation of the aesthetic and artistic qualities of movement.
The dance programme involves the child in a range of creative and folk dance. When creating dance, the child explores a range of body parts, body actions and body shapes. Concepts relating to the body in space, the changing dynamics of movement and the implications of moving in relation to another person and his/her environment are explored. The child is encouraged to dance in response to different stimuli and accompaniment and to view dance performance. The child’s concept of what a dance is can be enriched by opportunities to see and appraise the more accomplished work of others.
Folk dancing is presented with an emphasis on being fully involved and enjoying the dance rather than on the movements involved in the dance. It provides the child with a knowledge and experience of dance of Irish and other cultures.
Gymnastics in education is concerned with the use of movement in a creative way in response to set tasks, both individually and with others. Children explore movement on the floor and when negotiating a variety of equipment. The gymnastics curriculum encourages children to participate in movement experiences that are open to personal interpretation, providing every child with the opportunity to experience success at a personal level, by engaging in challenging but realistically achievable tasks.
As the children progress through a sequential programme they are encouraged to strive for more control over their movements and to respond to more complex tasks. They can be helped to enjoy and develop an appreciation of gymnastics while realising individual potential and limitations, thus enhancing overall development.
The games strand fosters the child’s natural tendency to play through informal play activities. It enhances the development of basic skills, and many opportunities are provided for social interaction. As skills develop in accordance with the stage of development of the child, the desire to apply them in informal activities in competition with others increases. Initially this may occur with a partner and then lead into ‘small-sided’ or mini-games. As the child progresses to these more formalised games, a variety of games should be provided that develop not only skills but also understanding of such concepts as possession, teamwork, attack, defence and use of space. If allowed to experiment, the child will invent many games in which to apply developing skills and understanding.
Playground games, co-operative games and games traditional to the school or locality should be considered when planning a programme for the school. Gaelic games should be given particular consideration as part of the games programme. Invasion games, net games, striking and fielding games, target games and shared court games provide a range ofopportunities for the development of skills and understanding. ‘Smallsided’ or mini versions of these games encourage maximum participation. A balanced programme of such games ensures that the child experiences a wide variety of activities that provide enjoyment and challenge and that foster a lifelong interest.
Outdoor and adventure activities
Outdoor and adventure activities are facets of the physical education curriculum concerned with walking, cycling, camping and water-based activities, orienteering, and outdoor challenge activities.
Walking, cycling and camping are valuable activities that some schools may organise. Orienteering is an exciting activity that combines the geographical skills of map work, the physical activity of walking or running and the adventure of exploring unfamiliar locations. It can beintroduced through preliminary exercises on the school site. Outdoor challenge activities include trust or co-operative activities, group problem-solving exercises, and physical challenges such as those presented by rope courses and adventure play apparatus. Water-based activities may be included in the programme, providing opportunities for canoeing or sailing. These activities, which are mainly non-competitive, offer alternative avenues for pupil achievement and encouragement to adopt a healthy life-style based on an enjoyment and appreciation of the outdoors.
The aquatics programme is concerned with gaining competence and confidence near, in, under and on water. It provides unique opportunities for enjoyment, allowing the child the sensation of buoyancy. The term ‘aquatics’ is used to include not only the teaching of swimming strokes but the provision of opportunities for enjoyment of water play and other aspects of aquatics. The emphasis on enjoyment should be maintained as proficiency is acquired in specific techniques, including learning to swim a stroke or a variety of strokes. The concern for water safety permeates all aquatic activities and needs to be stressed throughout the programme.
The aquatics programme is presented as one complete unit, without division into class levels. This allows for adaptation by schools related to their access to a local facility. The programme can be implemented progressively at whatever stage the child has an opportunity to begin water-based activities.
Developing the child’s understanding and appreciation of physical activities
This curriculum places an emphasis on the development of the child’s understanding and appreciation of physical activities through the strand units ‘Understanding and appreciation’. This is an important aspect of the child’s development as a participant in physical activities and as a spectator or member of an audience. In a games situation, for instance, it may involve the development of the child’s ability to identify or apply appropriate tactics. During an outdoor activities lesson it may involve the discussion of options available when undertaking an orienteering task. The unit also contains suggestions on extending the child’s knowledge of the rules of games or of opportunities for involvement in physical activities locally. The content of the strand unit is designed to be developed as the strands are explored rather than forming lessons in itself.
Physical education and sport
Physical education and sport, although closely linked, are not synonymous. Sport is formalised physical activity involving competition or challenges against oneself, others or the environment, with an emphasis on winning. It begins in play and develops through games and challenges. The focus in the physical education curriculum is on the child’s holistic development, stressing personal and social development, physical growth, and motor development. Goal-setting, within the curriculum, focuses on individual improvement and not on winning or being the best.
The place of competition in the physical education programme
Since children mature at different rates, programmes should reflect the great differences often evident within a single age group. Where the children can adapt and find their own level of activity in spontaneous and co-operative play, the different levels of maturity may have no serious consequences. In the competitive situation, however, children are sometimes grouped with little regard for discrepancies of size and strength, the size of the playing area, the length of the game or the equipment used. Unless competition is de-emphasised, those who compare less favourably will always be at risk of withdrawal and are likely to become inactive adults.
Also, gifted or physically stronger children who survive on a menu of competitive sports may have no substitute when, in later years, success in sports is harder to achieve and therefore the desire to participate may diminish.
However, competition is not incompatible with the holistic development of the child if the opportunities presented are such that the child is progressing towards the achievement of his/her potential. It is in the primary school years that the movements and skills necessary for progressing to formalised sport are acquired. During this time also the child learns to officiate at games and to develop respect for opponents, officials, rules and spectators. A balanced approach to competition can make a significant contribution to the child’s development while at the same time providing fun, enjoyment and satisfaction.
Schools provide opportunities within the physical education programme for children to participate in sport. In addition, many schools provide further opportunities within an extracurricular programme, including preparation for inter-school competitions.
Extracurricular activity, organised and/or implemented by teachers or parents in a voluntary capacity, should be linked where possible to the physical education programme. Such time, effort and expertise is an extremely valuable contribution to the social and physical development of children. It can provide children with fun and enjoyment as well as opportunities to strengthen the relationship with teachers, parents and other children. The extracurricular programme, therefore, that involves the implementation of competitive activities, should always reflect the aims and objectives of the physical education curriculum.
Promoting gender equity through physical education
In the planning of the physical education curriculum consideration should be given, on an equitable basis, to the needs and interests of both girls and boys, helping to build positive attitudes towards all activities.
The child with special needs
The child with special needs should experience the enjoyment of participation and progression through the various stages of the physical education programme according to his/her ability. It is important that the class teacher encourages maximum participation in the physical education lesson by the child and provides the opportunity to benefit from a balanced physical education programme.
The school physical education programme
The school plan will cover the nature and scope of physical education, recognising the developmental and varying needs of the children and the availability of resources. When the physical education plan is being devised, all aspects of the curriculum and the extent to which it can be implemented need to be considered. It is only when such an approach is adopted that a broad and balanced programme can be offered within the school. Given that the programme is to be integrated with the other curricular areas, a class teacher is the most appropriate teacher to teach the physical education programme.
Assessment is an integral part of teaching and learning in physical education, as in other areas of the curriculum. The section on assessment outlines how a range of assessment techniques can assist in enriching the learning experience of the child and provide useful information for pupils, teachers, parents and others.
Physical education and other areas of the curriculum
Physical education has many objectives that are developed as the children engage in other subjects, such as Irish, English, geography, art, music, mathematics, and, especially social, personal and health education. Children’s learning in these subjects can also be enriched through a programme of physical education that is broad and balanced. For instance, a child who learns to read a plan or a map in the geography lesson can use this skill when undertaking an orienteering activity. Thus, the outdoor and adventure activities lesson can provide an opportunity for the child to develop this skill in a practical way. The child who engages in a discussion about the rules of games or the development of a gymnastic sequence is presented with many opportunities for language development. It is impor tant that schools consider the links that exist between physical education and other subjects. Careful planning will ensure that physical education objectives are clearly defined within integrated activities.
Information and communication technologies
While the emphasis in the physical education curriculum is on active participation in physical activities, information and communication technologies can provide an interesting and exciting medium through which the interest of children in activities related to physical education can be stimulated.
Language and physical education
Language is such a pervasive influence in the teaching and learning process that particular examples of the integration of various subjects with language are not given in the curriculum. It is in talking about experience in physical education, whether through Irish or English, that the child clarifies ideas. The teacher uses language in the physical education lesson to question, to direct, to explain, to suggest, to prompt and to stimulate the child to think. In turn, the child is encouraged to respond by describing, discussing, speculating, explaining and expressing ideas and reactions. Language is important too in helping children to gain access to and retrieve information about physical activities. The extent, therefore, to which language is an integral part of the teaching and learning process should be a consistent concern in the planning and implementation of the physical education programme.
The aims of the physical education curriculum are
- to promote the physical, social, emotional and intellectual development of the child
- to develop positive personal qualities
- to help in the acquisition of an appropriate range of movement skills in a variety of contexts
- to promote understanding and knowledge of the various aspects of movement
- to develop an appreciation of movement and the use of the body as an instrument of expression and creativity
- to promote enjoyment of, and positive attitudes towards, physical activity and its contribution to lifelong health-related fitness, thus preparing the child for the active and purposeful use of leisure time.
When due account is taken of intrinsic abilities and varying circumstances, the physical education curriculum should enable the child to
Social and personal development
- experience enjoyment and achievement through movement
- interact and co-operate sensitively with others, regardless of cultural or social background or special needs
- develop qualities of self-esteem, self-awareness, confidence, initiative and leadership through movement
- develop an understanding of fair play and team spirit through participation and competition
- develop positive attitudes towards participation in movement activities
- experience adventure and challenge
Physical and motor development
- develop strength, speed, endurance and flexibility through engaging in a wide variety of activities
- develop agility, alertness, control, balance and co-ordination through movement
- develop personal competence in the athletic skills of running, jumping and throwing
- perform dances with confidence and competence, including simple folk and Irish dances
- develop personal competence in a range of gymnastic movements
- develop personal competence in the games skills of sending, receiving and travelling using a variety of equipment, and to apply these skills in games situations
- apply the skills needed to live and move with confidence in the environment
- build water confidence near, in, on and under water
- develop personal competence in a variety of strokes and water agility
Knowledge and understanding
- develop an understanding and general knowledge of movement activities and derive benefit as a participant and as a spectator
- develop an understanding of travel and weight-bearing as the basis of efficient body management and control, both on the floor and using apparatus
- experience and develop an understanding of the use of space, speed, effort, direction and level in the performance of actions
- develop an understanding of the appropriate basic rules, tactics and strategies of movement activities
- observe, discuss, analyse, interpret and enjoy the performance of movement
- gather, record and interpret information on achievement in movement activities
- be inventive, make decisions, solve problems and develop autonomy through movement activities
- participate in and develop a knowledge, understanding and appreciation of cultural activities through movement
- develop an appreciation of and respect for the environment through participation in activities outdoors
Creative and aesthetic development
- use the body as a means of expression and communication, using a range and variety of stimuli
- create and perform simple dances
- create and play simple games
- develop artistic and aesthetic understanding within and through movement
Development of health-related fitness
- maintain and enhance health-related fitness through vigorous physical activity that helps to promote a healthy life-style
- understand and practise good hygiene and posture
- appreciate the benefits of relaxation and cope with challenges
Development of safety
- adopt safe practices in all physical activities.
Planning content for physical education
Structure and presentation
The content of the physical education curriculum is presented in a number of strands and strand units to assist teachers in the planning of their work. Examples are shown in italic type throughout each strand unit, but these should be considered merely as suggestions.
A broad and balanced programme
An important aim of the physical education programme is to provide a wide variety of activities. Efficient planning will ensure that undue repetition and significant gaps in the programme are avoided.
Five of the strands should be included each year where possible; all options should be explored to overcome limitations where facilities or resources are restricted. The aquatics strand is outlined for implementation at any of the levels or over a number of levels, depending on the availability of a facility for aquatics. Where aquatics is provided for infant classes, the programme should be modified to suit the needs of this age group.
It is recommended that each strand unit should be covered to ensure variety, balance and continuity. However, taking the time available into consideration, the depth of treatment of each strand unit may be adjusted.
Developing the child’s understanding and appreciation of physical activities
Each strand contains a strand unit ‘Understanding and appreciation’. The content of the strand unit in itself is not intended to form lessons but should be developed as the other units of the strand are explored.
Linkage and integration
Opportunities for linkage (i.e. integration within the physical education curriculum) and integration (i.e. cross-curricular connections) exist throughout all levels. Teachers can identify these opportunities when planning the programme. Within the content sections, notes below strand units suggest some of the instances where linkage and integration might be established.