Physical education for homeschooled teens

Written by contributor Sarah Small of SmallWorld at Home

P E, phys ed, gym: whatever you called it, all of us public schoolers did it. Some of us dreaded it; some of us considered it the best part of the day. If you had to wear one-piece gym suits that zipped up the front, well, I’m laughing (and blushing) right along with you.

So how do homeschoolers handle PE? I am surprised at the number of people who ask me “Does [swimming, hiking, gymnastics, dancing] count as PE?” Of course! If your child is getting exercise, he is engaged in PE.

For most younger children, the need to move is innate.

What kid doesn’t want to climb the perfect tree or beg to go to the park? How many times have you heard yourself admonish your little kids to be still for a few minutes—to stop rolling around on the ground?

But as these same wiggly children enter the teen years, they would likely rather be on Facebook than running around outside.

While the inclination for physical activity is built into us, we have to be deliberate about providing opportunities for PE, especially as our kids get older.

For some families this is easy, particularly if your kids are part of an organized sports team. It may seem like every kid in the U.S. participates in a competitive sport, but that is simply not the case. For the rest of us a combination of creativity and diligence will ensure that you incorporate PE into your homeschool. (I encourage parents to take part in the family’s PE time, too!)

Ideas for Home-style PE

Playground/backyard games. When my oldest was 10, I realized that he had no idea how to play kickball. We began playing some traditional PE class games: kickball, whiffle ball, badminton, hopscotch, jump rope, Frisbee, even tag. Can’t remember rules? Check out Games Kids Play for a list of hundreds of such games. Some are tricky with just a parent and child, but homeschoolers are all about flexibility, right?

Home Workout: Put together a list of cardio and strength training exercises and go through these 2-3 times/week. Do an internet search for “home cardio training” and you will get all kinds of ideas, like this great list. Choose 10 or so exercises and do them three times each. You don’t have to be a fitness instructor to put together a plan!

Couch to 5K. This is a fantastic running program for parents and kids to do together. If you stick with the program, you and your kids will be able to run a 5K within 10 weeks. Before you say “I hate running!” take a look at the Couch to 5K website. As a former running-hater, I can assure you that you can do this!

Walking: Going outside for a 15-minute walk is probably the easiest form of exercise. Why do we not all do this every day? Walks are a terrific way to clear one’s head in the middle of a tough algebra day, too!

Biking: Send your kids outside for a bike break in the middle of the school day—a 15-minute bike ride is a great way to get some focus.  When you have more time and a way to transport your bikes if necessary, plan an afternoon’s excursion once a month or so. Lots of cities have fantastic bike trails. Check out Rails to Trails to see what’s near you.

Health club membership: Obviously the most pricey option, but if you can swing this, teens will love it. Look for a family friendly center. Our club allows kids 10 and up to participate in everything except for the weight machines. Another option might be your city’s Parks and Rec program or YMCA, both of which often offer a variety of opportunities.

Individual sports: Our society focuses a lot on team sports and not so much on individual sports, like golf, tennis, fencing, swimming, figure skating, skiing, etc. Try a semester’s worth of lessons to see if your child enjoys one of these sports or just for the experience of trying something new.

Workout videos, Wii games, etc.: Purchase a couple of workout videos and do them together once or twice each week. There are hundreds of options. And don’t forget about Wii games like Wii Fit, Wii Sports, and all the dancing games.

Hiking: I realize that not everyone has a national park practically in the backyard, but all the cities I’ve lived in had a hiking option within an hour’s drive. You don’t need to have the right boots to hike; just put on a pair of tennis shoes, grab a water bottle, and get out there!

PE Tips

  • Keep track of your exercising. Check out the President’s Challenge, a free program that encourages being active and eating healthy.
  • Every state has its own requirements for physical education for high school. We easily meet our state’s requirement, but our goal is to make PE a regular part of our lives, not just a short-term program to meet a requirement.
  • Make PE intentional. Plan out a schedule for the week so that you and your kids are doing at least 30 minutes, 4 days per week.
  • Keep plenty of variety in your PE. Kids get bored with the same thing, and so do parents.

How do you incorporate PE into your homeschool? Do you find this challenging as your kids get older?

About SarahS

Sarah has graduated one child from homeschooling and is happy to have miles left on the journey with her 11 and 15 year old children. With a master’s degree in English/creative writing, Sarah enjoys teaching writing and literature classes at her co-op and blogs about learning at SmallWorld at Home.


  1. Gym was something I dreaded growing up. I am not a physical game person, and would prefer to curl up with a good book rather than run from someone throwing a ball at me. My kids are still very young, and love to move, but I am hoping as they get older we can continue our nature walks/hikes, and count that as their gym – as well as any sports they may want to participate in.
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  2. Kathleen K says:

    Two years ago we enrolled our children in Krav Maga Kids. It is a self defense program that also focuses on physical fitness. They LOVE it and look forward to going. An added benefit is the workouts have strengthened them so yard work is easier!

  3. I grew up in a family that loved to walk but nothing else. Always reading and learning but never a push for proper exercise. When I hit my teens I had a struggle- I was bigger than the average girl and suffered with crushed confidence. Now a woman I push myself and my family to get up and exercise. It’s not a chore, it’s fun; it’s play or a day out. My children are yet to turn into teenagers but I pray that they don’t end up struggling with their bodies like I did- it’s no fun exercising for image, I just want it to be easy and natural for them. Your tips are noted!

  4. Lisa Rubin says:

    We have our 12 yr old daughter (homeschooled since 5th grade) in a homeschool swim program. She swims 3 to 5 times a week at an indoor swim club. She begged for years to swim year round, and we finally have time since we design our own schedule now. I can’t rave enough about how swimming has changed her body/mind/self image/our home life!!!
    Also, don’t forget about roller blades and the rip stick!! So much fun that it does not feel like exercise!

  5. It’s also fun to create mini unit studies by learning the history of a sport and then spending some time practicing it. My literary son enjoys discovering and researching a sport’s origins, rules, etc., and then we spend some time focusing on that sport before moving on to another one. It really is interesting to find out how different sports started and how far back they go. We have done baseball, basketball, fencing, swimming, track & field, and the Olympics so far. You can also visit museums–our area has a baseball museum and a history museum that has some sports-related exhibits. By delving deeper, my son is more enthusiastic about practicing the sport as well. Going for walks on our neighborhood’s nature trail with his camera in-hand is also a favorite. Thanks for all the great suggestions you listed!
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  6. I’d like to add yoga to this list! There are so many different types, and all help increase balance and flexibility for other sports (including hiking!) 🙂
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  7. For the previous school year my 11-year-old did yoga and she liked it more than she thought she would. I love these ideas and will definitely be incorporating some into our days. This year I think we might try some hiking and strength training! Thanks!
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  8. I grew up in a nerdy and fairly sedentary family but discovered as I hit middle school that I really enjoyed biking, tennis, etc. My brother and sister never explored those options on their own and now both have taken an interest and are having to learn the basics as adults. It’s way easier to learn to ride a bike as a kid than as an adult! So for our own children, we are making sure they learn all the fun things there are to do so they can go the direction they most enjoy.

    We’re also homeschooling my 14 year old half brother and for him the rule is 30-60 minutes of moderate to strenuous physical activity every day he is homeschooling with us. At first it was difficult to get him out the door (we only started homeschooling him in November) but after about 3 months of forced activity he started enjoying it and now he’ll now grab his bike for a ride any time he hits a mental block or is feeling stressed about something at home. I asked him if he’d be interested in a punch card for our local rec center and he actually responded enthusiastically about biking there, swimming or using other equipment, and biking back. So its never too late to start!

  9. Another thing to think about when it comes to ice skating…
    most universities have ice hockey teams.. and some of them have their own rinks (like Northeastern in Boston).

    Most of those college owned rinks have FREE public skate that noone seems to know about.

    If you stop by the Northeastern rink in Boston they will tell you what free hours the ice is open.

    You have to bring your own skates.. but sometimes you are the only person on the ice.

    We used this advantage for me to teach 5 6-year-old homeschoolers to ice skate every winter

  10. I love gym time I get up real early and aren’t awake right away so I love that I have the choice to do gym in the middle of school or at the end when I want to I’m going to start this plan where I walk for 20-40 min 3 times a week on my treadmill until it warms up cause it’s still like winter weather here in Ohio and once it’s like 60 or higher every day I think I’ll either take my walking outside or go bike riding. I also do 10 min of strength moves after my walks. The reason I love homeschool gym is that my mom hates working out so she lets me choose exactly what I want to do.

  11. I agree with you biking is a best way to get strength. I want to make my son healthy and smart. I will send my son for bike ride daily. Thanks for the great info.
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  12. If you want a really fun activity for the kids and the family get into square dancing. They have updated the music so that you now dance to modern music (pop, latin, jive, new age, etc). It’s great exercise, mentally and physically. There are square dance clubs in every state of the USA and in most countries of the world. To find a square dance club near you see the website “”. The clubs are very friendly and provide a great social environment. They offer beginner lessons in September.

  13. As a PE teacher in Colorado for 10 years now, this article (and the comments) miss tons of benefits of (small or large) group games, challenges, initiatives, skills, leadership, followership, essential collaboration and revision and responsibility skills, basic/advanced movement patterns and form and safety for skills unlimited. I’d advise any home-school parent to look to NASPE’s website and their state PE standards for guidance. Fitness and team sports and martial arts and gymnastics are amazing — but there is way more to PE than those staples. Lead by example. Get moving in any and all the ways you can. A sedentary lifestyle, obesity and the medical problems associated with it are no joke.

    • With all due respect, I highly doubt that NASPE or anyone in the public school setting can impart any longstanding habits to children through teaching concepts. Kids learn by doing what is done in the home. We ARE exercising with our kids during breaks. We LIVE this lifestyle and lead by example. Obesity also happens to be more prevalent among traditionally schooled children as compared to home educated kids. Perhaps NASPE could learn a thing or two from home education.

  14. I always love the idea of running, walking and biking. They are the easiest exercise to perform and yet very effective. The most important part is, anyone can perform these exercises. You don’t even need any special instruction to perform those. 🙂

  15. My 13 year old son used to love group sports, but not anymore. I won’t even blame that on the free-range bullying that happens in public school gym. He is, much like I was at his age, out of shape and sweats easily. He also has allergies and a fear of flying insects. It’s hard to get him to go outside. We do indoor roller skating on family nights, walk the dog, and I’ve gotten him on a treadmill by dangling youtube in front of him. He also likes to bring all of his Nerf guns and dollar store LARP swords to the park for a mass game that’s worth every dart we’ve ever lost. One rule: no shooting people, just things. Sometimes we play ‘battle music’ while the kids battle rocks, trees, and benches with vibrant catchphrases. It’s a lot of fun.

    I feel like we need a structured lesson plan for gym, like I need proof for myself that I’m following an age-appropriate level of activities and exposure to them. We are a pretty lazy family once our responsibilities are completed. I just feel like a scheduled plan would make fitness easier for me to enjtruct and him to accept following along with.

  16. Megan Adkins says:

    If anyone is interested in a more structured Physical Education class for their home school children. The University of Nebraska- Kearney has put together a home school physical education program we are willing to share with you 🙂

  17. I am so happy you addressed the issue. As a homeschooling mom of 2 teen girls- we have run the gamut of different types of physical activity. And you are absolutely correct when you addressed the intentional aspect of providing for physical health and education! It can be a real challenge for a number of reasons as interests and real life weave into your day to day. Keeping fun in mind has been our saving grace as well as flexibility and adaptability. Our needs change and so does the example we set as to how we prioritize our health and wellness.

    We are currently developing an online homeschool physical education program and would value your input as we are just developing our online program. We would welcome honest appraisal of the alpha phase as we are excited to develop our established locally run program and make it accessible to all homeschoolers online. We can be found at

  18. Natalie Foster says:

    Before coming a homeschool Mom , I taught pe for 10 years in private christian school and pe 2 years to homeschoolers at the local YMCA where I worked.. The ymca does have options and may have some one who could teach group classes. Also check with local homeschool associations there may be “traveling pe programs” where the teacher comes to your local coop group to teach PE . When I taught middle schoolers PE I stressed Life time recreational sports . I had units on skating, volleyball,bowling, dancing, softball,weightlifting , golf ,tennis and other things that as a teenager or an adult they may keep doing even if they aren’t really athletic. I have stayed in contact with many of my students thru social media and many of them still are involved in these activities even though they are now in their 20’s and 30’s.

  19. Pat Pease says:

    I have a particularly unique problem. My husband and I have homeschooled various grandchildren for the past 8 years. Right now, we are down to one 12 year old boy. He does not enjoy team sports because of his high functioning Aspergers. Recently, he expressed an interest in weight training. I am 72, my husband is almost 71, so exercise is not something that comes easily to us. We get our exercise through things like gardening and chores. Trying to come up with a plan for my grandson has been difficult. We’ve tried bowling and martial arts, neither of which has worked. We live in Arizona, so we have three good seasons and one impossible season for exercise. My grandson has never even learned to ride a bike. I would love to find a way to blend PE and socialization (with no more than two other kids) or something that we could do with him. Since he’s in junior high, he’s started to put on weight, and I know he’s not getting enough exercise.

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