“If we were all like learning at the same time, we might have like the same experience”: An investigation into the development of the physical self in early primary education.

Year: 2019

Author: Smee, Cameron

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

In recent years, a wealth of literature has highlighted the benefits of physical activity, particularly if an individual engages in physical activity over the life course. Accordingly, PE has emerged as a key space in the effort to foster lifelong physical activity participation among children. However, the problems with PE and its failure to connect with all children has been widely reported. Concurrently, there has been a significant physical activity dropout rate in adolescence for girls, and some boys. Scholarly attempts to address these concerns have focused mainly on late primary or high school settings, specifically curriculum and pedagogy. To date, very little research has focused on the early (first/second grade) PE experiences of children. Rather than a period which all children enter as a ‘blank slate’, early PE is defined by the differing levels of experience that children bring to class. For many children, PE is the first time they participate in sport and physical activity, while for others, it is a chance to continue their sporting participation and embody the physicalities they have already internalized. Hence, these early physical experiences are significant and can have a profound impact on how students engage in physical activity going forward. To examine how children are embodying and creating their physical selves in these two spaces, I spent six months at a primary school in Victoria. During this period, I examined the experiences of a first/second-grade cohort by implementing a variety of ethnographic and child-centred methods. Drawing on a theoretical approach, combining Bourdieu (1998) and Collins (2004), I show how the outcomes of PE activities, impacted the types of activities that children chose to engage in on the playground. I also show how the children play a key role in reproducing the dominant elements of the field (including the ‘naturalized’ gender order inherent in sport/PE) and the hierarchies that contextualized each activity. This research offers an in-depth focus into the complex social processes, in the playground and PE, which continue to usher children along seemingly pre-determined physical pathways. I conclude with a call for a renewed focus on early PE, and a re-conceptualisation of this significant period to more accurately include the voices of the children and reflect the varying levels and types of physical experience that children bring to class.