Why is it important to teach Physical Education (PE) to the standards?

Two children playing basketball on an outdoor court. The child is attempting to shoot while the adult is blocking. The scene is set under trees with purple blossoms and clear blue skies in the background.
Kids playing basketball

Physical Education (PE) isn’t just a break from normal classroom work; it’s also a big part of how young minds and bodies grow and change. In California, the grade school Physical Education (PE) standards have been set by the Department of Education. These guidelines have been carefully made to make sure that kids get a complete and age-appropriate PE experience that helps them grow physically, socially, and mentally. Let’s talk about how important it is for elementary school PE classes to meet state standards, using examples from the California Department of Education Framework for all elementary grades.  The following are just some examples of PE standards for elementary schools in California, for a more comprehensive list of PE standards, please check your state’s Department of Education.

Grade 1: Developing Fundamental Movement Skills

Grade 1 marks the beginning of a child’s journey into the world of physical education. At this stage, the focus is on developing fundamental movement skills that form the foundation for various physical activities. According to California’s PE standards for grade 1, students should be able to:

Demonstrate locomotor skills:

Students should be able to run, jump, hop, skip, and gallop with control and coordination. These skills enhance their ability to navigate their environment safely and actively participate in games and sports.

Demonstrate basic object control skills:

Throwing, catching, kicking, and striking are fundamental object control skills that help young learners interact with their surroundings and develop hand-eye coordination.

By teaching PE to these standards, educators promote physical development and build self-confidence and teamwork as students engage in activities together. Mastering these skills early on sets the stage for children to pursue and enjoy sports and physical activities throughout their lives.

Grade 2: Refining Motor Skills and Spatial Awareness

In grade 2, physical education continues to build upon the foundation laid in grade 1. The California PE standards for grade 2 include:

Refining locomotor skills:

Students should further refine their running, jumping, hopping, skipping, and galloping abilities, demonstrating improved control and precision in their movements.

Demonstrating manipulative skills:

Building on basic object control skills, students should exhibit more refined throwing, catching, kicking, and striking techniques, enhancing their overall physical coordination.

Understanding spatial awareness:

Grade 2 standards emphasize spatial awareness, helping students understand how to move effectively and safely within their environment.

By teaching PE with a focus on refining motor skills and spatial awareness, educators enable students to become more competent and confident in their physical abilities, leading to a greater sense of accomplishment and enjoyment in physical activities.

Grade 3: Introduction to Sportsmanship and Teamwork

As students progress to grade 3, PE becomes an opportunity to introduce essential values like sportsmanship, cooperation, and fair play. The California PE standards for grade 3 include:

Understanding rules and strategies:

Students should comprehend the basic rules and strategies of various games and sports, encouraging critical thinking and decision-making skills.

Demonstrating teamwork:

Participation in group activities helps children understand the value of cooperation, communication, and teamwork. These skills extend beyond the PE class and positively impact their social interactions in other settings.

Engaging in moderate to vigorous physical activity:

Grade 3 standards emphasize the importance of regular physical activity to promote health and well-being. Teachers can introduce age-appropriate exercises and activities that keep children motivated and active.

By aligning PE lessons with these standards, educators instill values of fair play, empathy, and resilience in students, making them better equipped to handle both successes and setbacks in their academic and personal lives.

Grade 4: Exploring Diverse Physical Activities

In grade 4, the scope of PE expands to explore a wide range of physical activities. The California PE standards for grade 4 include:

Participating in team and individual sports:

Students should engage in team and individual sports, gaining exposure to various activities like soccer, basketball, volleyball, tennis, and others.

Applying movement concepts and principles:

Grade 4 students should understand and apply fundamental movement concepts and principles to enhance their performance in sports and activities.

Demonstrating flexibility and adaptability:

Encouraging students to be flexible and adaptable in different physical activities helps them build resilience and confidence in trying new challenges.

By exposing students to diverse physical activities and encouraging flexibility, educators open up opportunities for students to discover their interests and talents, fostering a lifelong appreciation for physical activity and fitness.

Grade 5: Emphasizing Health and Fitness

In grade 5, the focus of PE shifts towards health and fitness concepts, empowering students to make informed choices about their well-being. The California PE standards for grade 5 include:

Demonstrating knowledge of fitness concepts:

Students should articulate the importance of warm-up exercises, stretching, and cooling down to prevent injuries and improve performance.

Applying movement concepts:

Grade 5 students should understand and apply concepts like spatial awareness, balance, and coordination to execute more complex movement patterns accurately.

Participating in physical activities outside of school:

Encouraging students to engage in physical activities beyond school hours establishes lifelong habits of staying active and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

Teaching PE according to these standards empowers students to take responsibility for their health and fitness, making them more likely to lead physically active lives well into adulthood.


Teaching physical education to meet state standards in elementary school isn’t just a duty; it’s a process that helps our kids grow in every way. The California Department of Education’s Framework for Physical Education Standards in all school grades gives a structured, all-around plan for PE. PE teaches kids important life lessons that go far beyond the walls of a school gym. For example, it helps them learn basic movement skills, encourages good sportsmanship, exposes them to a variety of physical exercises, and puts an emphasis on health and fitness.

PE that meets state standards helps our kids become physically confident, mentally strong, and socially skilled people who are ready to do well in all areas of life. Teaching physical education (PE) helps shape the future of our society by giving kids the physical and social skills they need to be active, well-rounded, and ready to take on any task that comes their way. With the right help and direction, physical education in elementary schools can help make the next generation smarter and healthy. This will have a lasting effect on our communities for many years to come.


“All Curriculum Frameworks.” All Curriculum Frameworks – Curriculum Frameworks & Instructional Materials (CA Dept of Education), https://www.cde.ca.gov/ci/cr/cf/allfwks.asp. Accessed 30 July 2023.