Few things bring back fearful memories as the thought of elementary school physical education (PE) class. No matter how old you are, you never forget that feeling of getting pounded by a dodgeball or desperately trying to shimmy up a rope while the whole class looked on (and taunted you) from below.

The format of the standard physical education class has been the same for decades. Take large groups of kids with varying athletic ability and force them to compete with one another in sports that favor those with actual skill. This old school PE focused on getting kids active for 30 to 60 minutes a day once or twice a week. But wouldn't it be nice if classes appealed to a wider variety of kids and if they taught kids how to stay active for a lifetime?

The new school of thought looks outside the gym for activities that not only get kids moving during the school day, but also shows them how to keep moving on their own. That's why kids in Rochester, New York, are passing on dodgeball and flag football and instead trying activities such as kayaking, mountain biking, in-line skating, dance and self-defense. It's why kids at Tahoma High School in Washington state are fly-fishing, rock-climbing and taking classes that focus on strength and conditioning. And it's why all second-graders in Washington D.C. learn how to ride a bike as part of their PE classes while fourth-graders do parkour and sixth-graders learn orienteering.

"Our (school) motto is ‘future ready,’" Takoma High School PE teacher Tracy Krause said in an interview with the Associated Press. "We want kids to leave with a plan for the future, whether it’s college or the military or going straight to the workforce, and I think the same needs to be true about their health."

Leveling the playing field

School yoga class Gym class should be more about teaching skills that will keep kids healthy for a lifetime and less about competition. (Photo: wavebreakmedia/Shutterstock)

When PE classes focus on real-life exercises rather than just sports, it gives kids a chance to learn about a variety of ways that they can incorporate fitness into their lives. It also levels the playing field, so to speak, to make health and fitness appealing to kids of all ages, sizes and abilities. It's more about teaching skills that will keep kids healthy for a lifetime and less about pitting them against one another in competitive games. And it's much more likely to get kids moving, even after the school bell rings.

With PE classes like that, it's entirely possible that when today's kids grow up and think back on their school years, they won't have horrible flashbacks when thinking of phys ed. Instead, they'll remember doing yoga, riding bikes and going for a hike. And maybe it will inspire them to get moving for the rest of their lives.