P.E. for Lifelong Health: More Than Just Another Subject

When I think of physical education, the first thing that comes to mind is organized sports and jumping jacks. There is nothing wrong with either of those things, but I was not eager to “go there” in our homeschool. However, it recently dawned on me that P.E. is more than learning the rules to softball or perfecting “sit and reach.” Teaching our children to live active lifestyles sets them up for better health and a more balanced life. Contrary to my previous belief, P.E. is actually a critical part of the homeschooling equation.

It’s no question that an active lifestyle is important to keep our bodies fit and to increase circulation. It’s also key to give our bodies a chance to move, especially when paired with many of the sedentary jobs (including school work) our modern world requires.

The key is finding a way to help our children build the right habits that will make an active lifestyle easy for them to maintain throughout their lives. It’s more than just blocking off a class period. It’s about building healthy habits together as a family. Here are a few tips to help you and your family integrate P.E. into your homeschool routine in lasting and effective ways.

It starts with you

It’s one thing to tell your child being active is important, but to watch from the sidelines while she plays sports or runs that obstacle course you set up in the backyard. It’s a totally different ball game when you set a good example by the way you live your own life. So, how is your physical activity? How do you want to show your children that exercise is important in your life? You don’t have to run a marathon; a daily after-lunch walk is a great place to start.

Include the whole family

Any time you can work on physical activity together as a family, it will help build momentum and keep everyone engaged. My husband’s family are all runners. He and his siblings and his dad will get together for races. It’s fun to hear them all talk when they are training together, even though they are spread out all over the world. My son has started riding his bike with my husband sometimes when he goes for runs, and before long he will be ready to run the 5K while my husband runs the marathon or half marathon.


Maybe your family enjoys biking, swimming, playing a team sport, or even hiking or backpacking. You can even get creative and work on little challenges together like jumping rope, keeping track of who walks the most steps in a day, or more. If you go to the playground, run around and hang on the equipment with your kids. Doing activities that include the whole family also gives you more quality time together, and that’s certainly a plus.

Replace a passive activity with an active one

There are so many passive things we can do in our families. If we can replace even one of those activities with something more active, even once a week, that may make a big difference. Can you walk or bike for one errand each week instead of taking the car? Think about doing some stretching or walking in place while you listen to a book on tape. Park your car at the far end of the parking lot and power walk to the store. Take a family walk in the evening instead of sitting around the house together. You can even practice spelling or vocabulary words or study for a test while moving. By simply replacing one passive activity with an active one, you can make a big difference in building an active lifestyle for your family.

Get outside on the weekends

It’s harder to be sedentary when you are outside. You can go for a walk, play frisbee — even blowing bubbles can get you moving. Make it a goal to get outside every single weekend, even when the weather is no fun. Then, get moving with your kids. My family loves spending Sabbath outside. We usually go for a really long hike. We don’t go fast, but just stretching our legs and getting out there in God’s creation does something amazing for the soul.

Take Active Breaks

When you are sitting or doing a task that requires sedentary focusing for long periods of time, get in the habit of setting timers for you and your kids. Get up and take a 10-minute walk around the house or jog in place. Whatever you do, make it active. Don’t simply move from the desk to the couch and “veg out.” Be intentional and get moving. Shoot a few hoops, toss a ball in the front yard. It doesn’t have to be something long or involved.

These are just a few ideas to get you started. You may notice that the more active you and your family are, the easier it will be to be more active over time. I truly believe that by integrating activity throughout your life and not just having a 30-minute class period in your school schedule (though that’s not bad either), you will be setting an example and putting the right habits in place to help your kids be healthy and balanced for life.

Keepin’ It Real

Let me just start by saying that this is not at all what I had planned on writing for this post … but a few things happened sort of all at once: the washing machine quit working, our van broke down, and my husband’s computer went kaput. Ouch!

So, what do you do when a lot of big expenses need your attention? Start with the one thing you need the most and make do with the rest. In other words, since we are a one-car family, and my husband makes a living doing computer work, a new washing machine will wait.

How does one do laundry for five people without a washer? Thankfully, we had been preparing for this day awhile back when the washer was down for a bit, and we knew it was just a matter of time until it died for good. Praise God we had the equipment to do our laundry somewhat efficiently by hand already. (By the way, if you ever try this out, a spin dryer is a wonderful thing!)

October_Outdoor_2You may be wondering what this has to do with homeschooling. Well, as we began hauling buckets of water, washing, spin drying, and hanging the laundry, I realized we had enough to keep us busy for the entire day. It reminded me of the Little House book where it talks about each day having its own proper work: “Wash on Monday, Iron on Tuesday, Mend on Wednesday, Churn on Thursday, Clean on Friday…”

I started thinking about how great it was that we were still meeting our goals of being outside, getting our fresh air, sunshine, and exercise by doing meaningful labor. We had purpose. We had to work together as a team to meet a common goal, a basic necessity not just for each individual’s benefit but for the whole family. We all got in on the work, even the toddler who loves to plunge the clothes in the buckets — and get drenched in the process.

October_Outdoor_1Isn’t it kind of ironic that we have all these fancy machines to increase efficiency, but then we have to find ways to fill up our kids’ time with other things that may not be as purposeful? Are we filling our lives with meaningful things, or with fluff to fill in the spaces? If having a washing machine (or any other modern convenience) means the kids will have more time to get bored and need artificial entertainment, then I’ll hand wash clothes all day long. Truly, I believe the challenge is not in finding something fun for our kids to do, but in finding something useful to do and making it fun.

At the end of the day, the lessons we learned from the simple act of washing our clothes by hand was of greater impact than what we could have ever learned from a day spent in books. This is education: out in nature, work to do, real-life problems to solve, serving together for one another, and the sweetness of rest and satisfaction of a job well done after the work is finished. Praise God for providing this life lesson for our family!

“Nothing is better for a man than that he should eat and drink, and that his soul should enjoy good in his labor. This also, I saw, was from the hand of God,” Ecclesiastes 2:24 NKJV.

Sight-words Flashcards “Toll” Game

In teaching children to read, building a store of sight-words can give them some quick wins as they work on perfecting their phonics skills. It makes it possible to read some more interesting stories that include words that may be quite common in a child’s world, but not necessarily phonetically simple.

In teaching children to read, building a store of sight-words can give them some quick wins as they work on perfecting their phonics skills. The Sight-words Flashcards "Toll" Game is a great, fun way to work on this!

For even more fun… play with bicycles!

The problem is that sight-words must be drilled. They must be used. You could label various things around your house — or better yet, let your child help you do that. You could also point out a particular sight-word as you read, and let the child “read” that word. (One of these days, we will go into that in detail in another blog post.)

While these methods can be helpful, on their own, you may end up with a child who is a master of guessing. That works fine for the first few words, but as the variety of somewhat similar words continues to grow? Yeah, that can be a problem.

So, what is a homeschool teacher to do? Flash cards! Now don’t run away too quickly here; we’re not going to follow the same old sit-and-flip-a-bunch-of-cards routine. We’re going to make it fun, like learning should be!

Ready? Here we go!

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Any time you can manage to mix in fun physical activity with mental exercise, you’re bound to have a win with the children.

One of mine and the young children’s favorite school games to play has been our Sight-Words Flashcards “Toll” Game.

The Cards

To play, you will need a stack of sight-word flash cards. Be sure to use words that your children are ready to learn. Start with a small stack, even just two or three cards if your child is just beginning.

As your child gains confidence, you can add words, and even some phrases.

Sight-words Flashcards "Toll" Game | SDAHomeschools.org

First, prepare your stack of sight-word flashcards.

The first time you show a new card, tell your child the answer and let them repeat it. (Later, if your child is struggling too hard with a card, you can do this, as well. Don’t let them throw out a bunch of wrong answers. Simply re-state the correct answer, let them repeat it, and move on.)

The Play Space

Once you have your cards chosen and in a stack, you will need a place to play. Indoors is acceptable. Outdoors is awesome.

The most important thing about your play space is that it have a clear path for traveling. That might be around the edges of your living room, or in the path that circles that central wall in your house. It also might be around that small grove of trees in your yard, or right around the outside perimeter of your home.


You’ll have to decide how the children are going to travel in your designated path. They could just walk — but it’s so much more fun to change it up from time to time.

You could call out a change once in awhile: “Walk!” “Run!” “Skip!” “Hop!”

You could let the children decide how they want to go.

Or, if you want to make it really fun? Let them go on bicycles!

As for you … you get to walk … but in the opposite direction of the children.

The Game

From there, it is very simple. You walk around one way, holding your stack of sight-word flashcards. The children travel around in the opposite direction.

Sight-words Flashcards "Toll" Game | SDAHomeschools.org

Be sure there’s always a card ready to read.

Every so often, you are going to pass each other. Let the children know that when you do, the child has to pay a “toll” to get by. I imagine they can guess what their toll will be: reading the next sight-word flashcard, of course. 😉

If you have more than one child in the game, most of the time you might keep the same word up until all of the children have read it. Sometimes, though, switch the cards before the next child so that they cannot just repeat the other child’s answer without paying attention.

Once the “toll” is paid and the child passes by, immediately switch to the next card.

Always keep a card held up so the children can see it as they are about to pass by. Their goal is to never have to stop.

As mentioned earlier, if a child struggles too much with a particular card, give them the answer. Also, put the card near the top of the stack so they get it again soon.

You can play for a set amount of time (say, 10 or 15 minutes), or through a set stack of cards. However you decide, be sure to stop while it is still fun, and the children will look forward to playing again next time!

►► Do you have a fun way to practice reading sight-words? Tell us about it in the comments!

Outdoor {Home}School

This is officially our third year of homeschooling. Our time has consisted of many trials and errors, mostly ending up in living life at home and bringing the kids along for the ride, instead of “schooling” as it is traditionally defined. While it may sound good in theory, I realize we need a better routine for smoother days and to have a more Heaven-like experience. Like probably all home educating parents, I’ve studied a lot of theories and philosophies, and while I have my ideal of what a true biblically-based education should be, it has been much more difficult putting that into practice.

Recently I listened to a podcast about an outdoor school in which the kids are outside for the entire day, rain or shine, year-round. It started me thinking about doing our learning outside all day long. Why not? Didn’t God create the first classroom in a garden?

Although I know we’ve probably read these quotes many times, they took on a new meaning to me as I re-read the wisdom from the Spirit of Prophecy in light of considering schooling in a different environment than before. From the pen of inspiration:

“The system of education instituted at the beginning of the world was to be a model for man throughout all after time. As an illustration of its principles a model school was established in Eden, the home of our first parents. The Garden of Eden was the schoolroom, nature was the lesson book, the Creator Himself was the instructor,” Child Guidance, p.294.

To me that means that not only should we pursue an outdoor schoolroom as was modeled in Eden, but that God Himself will be our Master Instructor when we use His book of nature. Praise God for taking the pressure off this mama!!!

“The fields and hills-nature’s audience chamber- should be the schoolroom for little children. Her treasures should be their textbook….Parents may do much to connect their children with God by encouraging them to love the things of nature which He has given them, and to recognize the hand of the Giver in all they receive. The soil of the heart may thus early be prepared for casting in the precious seeds of truth, which in due time will spring up and bear a rich harvest,” Child Guidance, p.48.

Doesn’t it sound like the hearts of our children will be more reachable and prepared to hear God’s voice through the love of nature? Sign me up for that too please!  Not to mention the numerous Bible characters who spent their time learning in nature … Jesus, David, Moses, Jacob, Isaac, Abraham, Abel, and Adam, to name a few.

Of course nature has many physical health benefits as well. Have you seen the articles proclaiming, “sitting is the new smoking,” based in part on this research? Basically science is catching up with the Spirit of Prophecy, and showing that exercise for a relatively short time each day does not offset the effects of sitting for hour upon hour. Makes sense doesn’t it?

Here’s what Ellen White was inspired to write about it:

“The human body may be compared to nicely adjusted machinery …. One part should not be subjected to constant wear and pressure, while another part is rusting from inaction. While the mind is tasked, the muscles also should have their proportion of exercise,” Fundamentals of Christian Education p.72.

“The benefits of physical labor in the open air have the advantage tenfold to that obtained within doors,” The Health Reformer, September 1, 1873, Par.5.

To put this into practice, my plan is to include time for the physical exercise as much or more than the mental, depending on the age of our children. More to come on our daily schedule in a later post …

Another area of health I’m keenly aware of is eye health and vision development. This one is more personal to me as I have very poor eyesight due in large part, I believe, to intemperate habits of reading and studying early on. I still struggle with turning off the research part of my brain and letting my eyes and mind rest.

My understanding is that our eyes were created in such a way that the muscles are at their optimal length (not too long, not too short) when we are looking at objects about seven feet away. When we are reading, our muscles shorten to enable a sharp near focus, and over time the muscles can no longer lengthen properly, hence creating a need to look through “corrective lenses” that allow the eyes to see at longer distances while the muscles stay in a shortened position. Unfortunately, it doesn’t fix the problem of the shortened muscles, but rather encourages them to stay short.

Beautifully, God created our world with an abundance of nature scenery to enjoy both up close and afar to achieve that perfect balance. It’s not at all like reading a book for hours on end. In contrast, the scenery of the great outdoors is always demanding our eyes adapt to focus at varying distances. I hope to teach my children that reading is great in moderation, but nature is to be our living textbook.

These are just a few of my top reasons for having an outdoor-based learning environment over the coming school year and hopefully for many years to come. While there are many nature activities and things to study about nature that we will include, my aim is more on how to utilize a living outdoor classroom and purposefully move more often — not just for an occasional nature walk, study, activity, or outing, but as a lifestyle.

After digging for information on how to put this into practice, I came up with very little, and what I did find was heavily influenced by non-Christian themes. So, although I’m no expert in either outdoor living or homeschooling, I will share our experience over this school year in hopes of encouraging others’ love of nature and of nature’s Creator. This will be our attempt at educating with an outdoor lifestyle in an indoor society.

Here are some things we did over the summer to begin shifting our homeschool to an outdoor-based environment. So far we haven’t bought anything extra, so it is budget-friendly, though I do have a mental list of things I’d like to buy when we can.

What looked like an area of relaxation to me looked like a ship with masts to climb to them!

What looked like an area of relaxation to me looked like a ship with masts to climb to them!

One of our first orders of business was to encourage more outdoor time even in the summer heat by setting up resting and play spots in the shade to entice the kids to enjoy the simplicity of being outside. We also put up a mesh tent over our picnic table to remedy being bothered by mosquitoes and bees while eating.


Outdoor Classroom1Though we don’t have a very large porch, we cleared off an area and spread a comforter on the ground for a more comfortable learning nook. We also put up curtains made from sheets to block the hot morning sun that shines on the porch mid-morning to early afternoon. We try to wear light cotton clothing, as that helps us stay cool and well-ventilated in the heat and humidity.

Is this type of schooling even possible in this day and age? I believe it is, and I’m bound and determined by God’s wisdom and inspiration to figure out how to immerse ourselves in God’s nature lesson book to keep our hearts receptive to the gentle voice of the Creator and Savior so we can be ready for His soon coming! I hope you’ll join me on the learning journey in this world to prepare our hearts for the glorious new world to come.

Math Hopscotch

Have you ever noticed how turning learning into a game does not just make it more fun, it makes it more effective? Math games are a very powerful example of that, and I have been known to make up my share of them in my couple decades as a homeschool mom.

Math Hopscotch: Mixing a bit of physical activity into the children’s brain work is often a great way out of a slump! | SDAHomeschools.org

Math Hopscotch: Mixing a bit of physical activity into the
children’s brain work is often a great way out of a slump!

Today I would like to share one of our favorites with you: Math Hopscotch.

Math Hopscotch is an excellent, fun way to learn multiplication – or to practice what you already know. Mixing a bit of physical activity into the children’s brain work is often a great way out of a slump, too.

Here’s how it works:

  • Decide which multiplication table your child is ready to work on.
  • For our example today, we are going to say she is ready to learn 4’s.

  • Choose a location.
  • We played indoors this time, but outdoors works great, as well. If you have decent weather and a sidewalk, it can be fun to draw your basic hopscotch board with chalk on the sidewalk. More about that in Numbers 3 and 4.

  • Make your number cards.
  • Your cards should be about the size of half of a 3×5-inch index card (i.e. 2-1/2 by 3 inches). Scratch paper is fine, and the exact size is not real critical. Just cut out 20 cards for an indoor game or 10 for an outdoor game on a chalk hopscotch board.Using a dark-colored marker, pen, or crayon, write neat, bold numbers on your cards.

    For an indoor game, the first 10 cards are for the numbers “1” to “10,” one number to a card. (I realize the times tables often go to 12 or 13, but that always seemed a bit much to me, both for the child to start with and for the game. You want to be sure your game keeps an element of fun. As for the “easy” numbers, like “1” and “2,” they give a good boost of courage and a little “brain break” here and there in the practice. I don’t recommend taking them out, especially when the child is just learning their multiplication facts.)

    For either location, the next 10 cards are for the multiples of your chosen number. For our example, we would write: 4, 8, 12, 16… up to 40.

    Again, keep one number to a card and write in a bold color. It is nice if you can write your multiples in a different color from the basic multipliers you made.

  • Lay out (or draw) your Math Hopscotch board.
  • Math Hopscotch: a simple, fun game for learning times tables! | SDAHomeschools.org

    Lay out your Math Hopscotch board in basic hopscotch-type form.

    In a basic hopscotch-type form (see photo for example), lay out (or draw) your basic numbers, 1-10, in order. Lay down the multiples beside their multiplier. This is a good job for a little who is learning number recognition: “Set this card next to the black ‘3’.”


  • Toss and hop.
  • Grab a marker. A small rock might be nice outside. A hairband works particularly well indoors. We have tried cat toys (amongst other things), but they tend to bounce on the carpet! (We have been known to go fix a misplaced marker, by the way.)As you might guess, this experiment can be part of the fun for the children.

    Have your child toss her marker onto the first number “1.” Then she will hop over that square (chalk or imaginary) where her marker is and onto the next one. Wherever she hops, she counts by the multiples. So the first time through, it’s “8, 12, 16…” on up to “40.”

    Hop on one foot where there is one pair of numbers (the multiplier and multiple); hop on two where there is a set of pairs next to each other. Instruct your children to hop next to the papers – not on them – to avoid slipping!)

    Math Hopscotch: One foot, two! | SDAHomeschools.org

    One foot…

    At the end of the line, child takes a hop to turn around, and counts by their multiple backwards down the line: “40, 36, 32….” Incidentally, I am not a stickler for reciting the numbers in exact order. If she lands on “7,28” and “8,32” as a pair, she might say “28, 32” or “32, 28.”

    In the end, the result is the same. Her facts are memorized.

    Math Hopscotch: One foot, two! | SDAHomeschools.org

    …two feet!

    When your child lands on the space just before her marker, she pauses (often on one foot!) to pick up her marker and continue down the line, to finally hop out at the end.

    If more than one child is playing, let the other do the same.

    Next time through, have them toss their markers to the next number in line, and so forth until they have gone through all 10. (If you need to shorten the game, let one child toss to “1,” the next toss to “2,” and so forth.)


  • Encourage Memory.
  • After a few turns of simple drill, start taking out random multiples. (Leave the basic multipliers.) This is also a fun job for the littles learning number recognition: “Pick up the card by the black ‘9’;” or, “Pick up the card with the red ‘3-6’. That’s 36!”Try to alternate taking away easier and more difficult problems. (Pay attention to where your child hesitates.) Also mix up where in the line you are leaving the “empty” spaces.Pay careful attention as you take away the cards. A little hesitation is okay; downright frustration or a total pause is not a good sign. If a particular number gives too much difficulty, just put it back. Your child will have it memorized soon enough.

    It is okay to end the game with some multiples still out there, if need be.

  • Repeat.
  • Next day, repeat the same times table if your child needs it. This time, take the multiples out a bit sooner if your child can handle it. The eventual goal is not to need the multiples laid out at all.The next day (or few days – whenever your child is ready), move on to the next table!

Additional Tips:

  • This game couples well with some sort of timed multiplication table test. We like the ones at multiplication.com.
  • Once your child has some or all of the multiplication tables memorized, review sometimes by setting out the numbers 1-10 at random instead of in order. Call a multiplier the child has learned for each trip up the line. You may use a pair of dice to decide, if you like.
  • Include littles in the game by letting them count their way up the line: “1,2,3…” and/or just give their best shot at hopping in the pattern (one foot, two feet…). I don’t believe in pressuring the young children to memorize the numbers, but you might be amazed how much they pick up just by intentional casual association!
  • If you are physically able, join in, too – the children love it!

►► Do you have a math game that has helped your children master the basic math facts? If you decide to give Math Hopscotch a try, I would love to hear how that goes for you, too.