Developing the Whole Child in Primary Physical Education

Authored by: Lisette Burrows

Routledge Handbook of Primary Physical Education

Print publication date:  November  2017
Online publication date:  November  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138682344
eBook ISBN: 9781315545257
Adobe ISBN:


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Developing the ‘whole child’ is a mantra that has been rehearsed in primary school physical education across the globe for decades (Burrows & Wright, 2001). In countries like New Zealand and Australia, both heavily dominated by British traditions of physical training, the 1950s saw key shifts in how physical education was thought about and practised (Burrows, 1999; Kirk, 1992; Wright, 1995). Gone were the days (well, not quite) of militaristic drill routines, regimented exercises, obsessive concerns about posture, medical inspections, and corsets. Instead the austerity and regimentation of physical exercises were replaced with a more humanistic emphasis on pupil enjoyment, fun, and learning through the physical as well as ‘in’ it. As a New Zealand primary school inspector in the 1960s put it:

Today, the whole trend of modern thought in physical education is towards using movement as a medium for much wider educational purposes – as a means of social development and creative expression, and as an opportunity for the exercise and education of the mind and the emotions as well as the muscles.

(Walbrun, 1966: 38) Thirty years later when I was training to be a physical education teacher, we were certainly encouraged to view our role in fostering the whole of children’s development as crucial. ‘Physical education is education in, through, and about the physical’ was the key message for us beginner teachers. Issued with a syllabus that specified the physical, personal, and social stages of growth and development of our students (e.g. Department of Education, 1987), we were taught that age-related changes in each of these spheres were ‘normal’, that children would advance sequentially through a series of stages, and that our role as physical education teachers was to provide subject matter, assessments, and learning activities that facilitated pupils’ developmental journey en route to adulthood.

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