National Physical Education and Sport Week is held from May 1 to May 7 every year. It’s a week-long celebration of giving importance to fitness, a healthy lifestyle, and a sound mind and body. This event highlights physical education and sports activities that kids and adults could engage in. Moreover, this also helps one to reinvigorate and reactivate their interest in physical activities despite their busy schedules. From exercising for a couple of minutes every day to joining team sports all week, you’ll have limitless options to keep your body in check, socialize, and have fun.
The origin of physical education in schools traces back to 386 B.C.E. Plato and Aristotle examined the relationship between the human body and mind. Plato later on incorporated this in his school called “Akademia” or “the Academy.” He recognizes the importance of physical education as part of human education, and how the body functions in harmony with the human mind. In Plato’s education room, he taught students that there is no superiority between the body and the mind — both elements are equal.
The concept of modern physical education didn’t start until the early 1800s. During that time, it was deemed that physical health through fitness is an important component that should be part of every school. The first school to integrate physical education into its curriculum was “The Round Hill School” in Northampton, Massachusetts back in 1823. It was gymnast Friedrich Jahn who opened the first gymnasium to introduce balance beams, parallel bars, rings, and high bars to students. Gymnastics classes continued in 1825. He also began teaching students outdoor physical education activities as well as creating the first gymnastics club for the youth and adults. His contributions to physical education earned him the title of the father of modern physical education.
In the early 20th century, educators like John Dewey, Stanley G. Hall, and Edward Thorndike gave importance to children’s play and physical education in school systems. In the 1920s, many states passed legislation for schools to require physical education. By the 1950s, there was a steady growth of physical education in many public schools in the U.S.
This is where I come in. My mom knew I needed a physical outlet and the first activity was in Brownies. Then we moved the following year where I switched to swimming at the Green Lake Pool, a close bike ride away (oh my lovely bike) and then to Baton lessons and the competitions and parades. In High School I played a lot of tennis and was involved in a youth marching group color guard. I was well aware of the “stigma” around girls who did well in sports as being “queer.” It held us back. But I was lucky in that my mom encouraged my extra curricular involvements.
I can’t imagine not being physically able. We all hated our “gym clothes,” especially when we went out to the courts. Our gym shoes were Keds, not much support but allowed on the gym floors for basketball and workouts. 100 years had passed and girls were just being allowed to pursue sports they excelled at. And for the past 70 years TV was bringing us the Olympics and the sports of both men and women in other parts of the world. As the saying goes, “if you see it you can be it.” Today women’s sports rule. No going back.
Of course, writing this blog has uncovered LOTS of women who bucked the system and succeeded in their own quests of excellence. Today I strive to get in my 5000 steps, 2 miles daily. Keep moving leads to a longer life, or so we’ve been told. My gramma lived to 87 and was NOT physical but was the most sweet and gentle soul and was accomplished in her own right. She did it her way. I continue walking.
These women’s canvas sneakers could have been used to play tennis, croquet or archery as well as other sports women played in the early 20th century. Made between 1917 and 1930, they have a diamond pattern and “Keds” stamped on the rubber sole.
To close out National Physical Education and Sport Week, think about the evolution of sneakers as well as physical fitness over the last century.