Students at Eunice Smith Elementary School work with their grown-ups to tally points after a relay game.ALTON/GODFREY - Amy Strobel loves to play games, but she wants you to know that’s not all your child is doing in P.E. class.

Strobel, a physical education teacher with Alton Community Unit School District #11, invited parents and guardians to join her P.E. classes as part of Family P.E. Week. This campaign by Active Schools encourages exercise beyond the school gym. Strobel teaches at Eunice Smith Elementary School and Gilson Brown Elementary School, so she works primarily with younger kids to try to foster an early love for fitness.

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“I think sometimes people in general and parents sometimes have a misconception of what P.E. is. Even with the little ones, I take what I do very seriously,” Strobel said. “This is the building blocks, at this age, of learning how to move their bodies and use their muscles and what that means for a lifetime of health…You introduce a kid to a football that they’ve never thrown — who knows where that goes for that child?”

Because her students are younger, Strobel finds activities to build their locomotor skills. They don’t play a full game of basketball, for example, but they learn how to dribble. These exercises help them gain more control over their bodies and learn some of the basic skills needed for more complex games and sports in the future.

Strobel is a big believer in cross-curricular education, so she often incorporates spelling, counting and other lessons into her classes. Active Schools promotes the idea that physical activity increases general school performance, and Strobel does what she can to support that mission and give a confidence boost to all the students she works with.

“Sometimes this is the place where the kids who sometimes maybe struggle in the classroom for whatever reason — sometimes my class is the one place they have success during the day, and that can really just help build some confidence that hopefully they can carry into their classroom when they go back,” she added.

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This confidence boost is an important part of her job, especially as a growing number of students quickly become frustrated or discouraged when they can’t figure out a new skill right away. She often reminds students that it’s okay to fail and try again, and she hopes Family P.E. Week will help parents and guardians to encourage this attitude at home, too. She also emphasizes that physical activity should be fun, not a punishment; if kids enjoy being active, they’re more likely to prioritize fitness in the future.

“The biggest thing is to just get outside and play with your kids. And don’t expect them, especially at a young age, to be able to do everything perfectly or even sometimes be able to follow the rules of a game,” Strobel said. “Take your kids outside and tell them it’s okay if they can’t do it, but to keep trying it and just learn that process of falling down and getting up or failing and trying again. Let an activity be fun.”

With this goal in mind, Strobel is sending every student home with a calendar of at-home challenges for families to complete together. Whether a student’s grown-up can attend a P.E. class this week or not, she hopes the Family P.E. Week activities will encourage play and fitness for all students and their loved ones.

After all, even though P.E. class is not recess (as Strobel has heard a few times before), she admits that it’s still a lot of fun.

“For some of them, this is the first time they've ever jumped rope or first time they’ve ever used a hula hoop or thrown a ball. Sometimes they don’t have somebody at home to do that with or they don’t have the resources to do that. It’s exciting when you see them catch onto something at this age. This is the time to kind of spark that curiosity and that interest,” Strobel added. “It’s fun to see their eyes light up when they figure out they can jump rope one time.”

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