12 Physical Education Alternatives for Kids Who Don't Like PE

Not Every Kid Loves Sports or PE... and That's OK

Kid Hates PE
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Physical education classes tend to have a love/hate reputation with students. Kids who excel at traditional team sports and competitive interaction tend to love PE, while those who are shyer, more sensitive or who fall a little behind the coordination curve, tend to see the class as an opportunity for embarrassment.

If your child falls into the latter category, you may be tempted to tell them to suck it up or to bide their time until required PE class credits are greatly reduced (typically around 7th grade). Unfortunately, these attitudes help contribute to extreme physical activity drop-offs as soon as kids hit middle school, when continued physical education is no longer school-mandated.

While you may not be able to save your child from PE class right now (options for alternative PE credits vary from state-to-state and district-to-district), you can help him or her discover a love of activity that's separate from traditional team sports or PE-classes. By encouraging your child to try non-school-sponsored sports and activities, you can set him or her up for a lifetime of active health.

Swimming, Diving, Synchronized Swimming or Water Polo

Swimming Team
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Swimming is frequently included as a high school-sponsored team sport, but it's rarely offered in PE curriculum. If you have a water bug on your hands, consider signing your child up for swim lessons or water sports at your local community center. Not only does swimming improve cardio, strength and flexibility, it's also a lifelong activity your child can enjoy for years to come.

Tip: If your child's a stand-out competitive swimmer, his or her extracurricular activity could count toward physical education credits at school. Ask your school principal about specifics. 

Rock Climbing

Rock Climbing
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Kids make incredible rock climbers - their small and flexible bodies have little trouble scurrying up a rock surface like a spider scurries up a wall. And while rock climbing is considered an individual sport, it requires teamwork and communication between climber and belayer, so it's a good option for kids who like working on their skills individually while still interacting with others.

Tip: Introduce your child to climbing at a rock climbing gym - it's often less intimidating than signing up for an outdoor excursion.


Dance Class
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Most PE curriculum includes some dancing - maybe a unit on square dancing or aerobic dance - but class time is typically limited, and may not introduce students to the vast array of dance styles available. If your child hates softball, but can't stop bobbing her head to the radio, check out the dance studios in your area and let your child choose which type of dance she wants to learn.

Tip: If your son seems skeptical about trying a dance class (even if he loves dancing when he's alone), point out that many football players take ballet and barre classes to improve coordination and flexibility. Then show him an episode or two of So You Think You Can Dance? - the guys on the show are incredibly talented and strong!

Golf or Tennis

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Like swimming, most high schools offer golf and tennis as school-sponsored sports, but they do little to cultivate such athletes in elementary or middle school. While these activities tend to cost more to participate in, many YMCAs and community centers offer discounted or free lessons, and if you're lucky enough to live where it's warm, your child can enjoy his or her chosen sport all year-round.

Parkour and Obstacle Course Racing

Obstacle Course
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For the hyperactive kid who can't sit still long enough to learn the rules of basketball or volleyball, consider an activity that promotes the bending of rules. Parkour, also known as free running, is all about climbing up walls, running across ledges and jumping over barriers. It sounds like a parent's worst nightmare, but when children are trained at a legitimate obstacle course gym, it's actually quite safe.

Endurance Sports

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The adult racing industry has exploded in the last 20 years, with millions of men and women participating in road races, trail races, triathlons and cycling events. As a happy byproduct of such activity, a new wave of children are showing a strong interest in pursuing endurance sports. It's a good thing, too. While track and field has long been promoted at schools, there are fewer opportunities for kids to learn about the lifelong sports of endurance running, cycling and triathlon.

Tip: These days there are lots of non-school-sponsored endurance events geared to children of all ages. Rather than sign your child up for a 5k race with little support or training, consider participating in a family fun run so you can learn and train together.


Getty Images/David Handley

Smaller children sometimes fall through the cracks when PE programs focus on sports that benefit from size, such as basketball, volleyball and football. If your child likes being active, but struggles with traditional team sports, look into gymnastics as an option. Gymnasts build incredible strength, flexibility, balance and coordination, and it's one sport where being small and compact is a clear benefit.

Group Fitness Classes

Zumba Class
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Introducing your child to group fitness classes at a young age is a great way to show her that not all "gym classes" are like PE. The heart-pumping music, enthusiastic instructor and encouraging classmates make every class a positive experience.

Tip: Not all gyms allow children to participate in group fitness classes. Talk to the manager about age requirements, and if your child's too young, look into facilities that offer youth-specific classes, such as Zumba Kids.

Horseback Riding

Horseback Riding
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I spent years taking horseback riding as a youth, and I can't emphasize enough how this activity positively affected my childhood. Not only does horseback riding improve balance, coordination and core strength, the interaction between horse and human is an almost meditative experience that reduces stress and improves mood. If your child loves animals and could use an activity that provides physical benefits and stress relief, call your local stables to learn about their youth programs.

Board Sports

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Not all kids are designed to wear an athletic uniform and follow the rules. If your child is more of a free spirit, board sports are a great way to channel creativity into a physical activity. The options are practically limitless, and may vary depending on where you live and what you have access to. Consider the following possibilities:

  • Skateboarding or longboarding
  • Standup Paddle Boarding
  • Snowboarding or skiing
  • Wakeboarding or waterskiing
  • Surfing
  • Wakesurfing
  • Kiteboarding
  • Windsurfing

 Tip: Skateboarding is one of the least expensive ways to get into board sports, requiring nothing more than a skateboard, helmet and pads. If your child is interested in a different board sport, but finances are tight, try starting with skateboarding - many of the skills gleaned are transferable to other board sports.

Martial Arts or Self-Defense

Martial Arts
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Martial arts and self-defense classes, such as Karate, Judo, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Krav Maga, are an excellent way to help children build confidence and self-awareness while improving physical fitness. These classes may be particularly helpful if your child has been bullied or if he or she struggles with self-control, as these classes typically teach mindfulness and respect in addition to grappling, punching and kicking.


Kids Yoga
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For the quiet, more contemplative child who doesn't want to sweat, and certainly doesn't want to compete, yoga is an excellent way to make physical activity enjoyable. You can ease your child into yoga with an introduction to simple sun salutations, and if he or she enjoys the experience, you can gradually ramp up the intensity by introducing your child to power yoga, acroyoga or athletic vinyasa flows.

Tip: Look for yoga studios that offer kid-friendly classes, or try a beginner's yoga video together at home.

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