A Short History of Physical Education

If we want to make a short history of physical education, we have to choose a specific target, otherwise it would take too much to find out when this practice was introduced in schools all over the world. We do know, for example, that the Greek discussed the importance of a healthy body, so determining the importance of physical activity was never an actual challenge. However, when trying to determine a period of time during which physical education began being taught in schools, we have to pay careful attention to the overall history of civilization, and realize that education for the masses didn’t actually catch on until the 18th century or so. Before that, children were either home schooled by the mother, who imparted whatever knowledge she had, or by special tutors when the family afforded it.

Mothers who taught their children had limited possibilities of course, so what they usually taught were reading, writing, some basic arithmetic, singing, perhaps playing an instrument, and other house work chores that the girls needed to know in order to become good wives. Moving on to more serious business, it was in Europe that the first education innovations were introduced, and the ol’ continent was an inspiration and influence for American education subsequently. So when talking about  a history of physical education, we have to talk about countries like England, Germany and Sweden, who had introduced these classes early in the 18th century.

Immigrants coming from these countries to the United States had first-hand influence over the education system; the Germans introduced weight lifting and the use of heavy apparatuses like the side horse, whereas the Swedish promoted physical education through light apparatuses like rope climbing. As for the British, they focused on sports and games, and saw them as a means for moral development as well. Together, these three influences put the bases of the history of physical education in America. Their marks are visible to this day, and the precepts of physical education in America clearly comprise the attributes shared by the three European nations.

It was in the 1820s when the first schools began placing physical education as a permanent class in the curriculum; the history of physical education was making an important turn, and soon all children had access to this type of education as well. At the end of the 19th century, California was one of the states which made it mandatory for all schools to hold two sessions of physical activity per day. Nowadays, we know that a healthy body means a healthy mind as well, and the oxygenation acquired during exercise helps our mind perform better.