Physical literacy is simple, fun, and essential for today’s kids

Physical literacy is simple, fun, and essential for today’s kids

The National Post recently published an article on physical literacy. The story is a comprehensive piece that quotes a number of experts such as Carl Honoré and Dr. Dean, as well as parents, including our own Sara Smeaton.

You must have a lot to think about after reading such an in-depth article. So, as we like to do here at Active for Life, we’ve simplified things. We’d like to remind you of some key elements of physical literacy that we believe really matter to parents, but were not included in the National Post article.

1. Physical literacy is simple

The term “physical literacy” may sound intimidating, but it is actually a simple concept.

Physical literacy is merely about developing the fundamental movement skills that all children need. These movement skills in turn give kids the confidence to participate in different physical activities, sports, and games.

In the same way a child learns to speak by interacting with her parents from an early age, the same is true of learning to move with confidence.

It doesn’t require special equipment or training, just a bit of knowledge and the simple and natural desire to give your kid the right building blocks from the start.

2. Physical literacy is fun (and not more work for parents)

My wife and I have always wanted to help our two children develop their physical literacy. And we did not have to do anything more than what most parents want to do anyway: spend a bit of time with our children doing activities they enjoy .

We especially enjoyed being there as our kids celebrated everyday milestones like zipping across the monkey bars, throwing a Frisbee clear across a field, or kicking a ball over a fence.

Now that they are 10 and 12, our reward has been witnessing our kids grow their movement skills, their confidence, and their love of being active. The bonus is that we don’t need to send them outside to play; they go on their own.

And by the way, they are also pretty good at playing video games. But that’s not the only thing they do.

3. Physical literacy is essential in today’s world

Many parents lament that kids today don’t play outside like they used to when they were young.

But the reality is that kids today are exactly like we were. They do the things they learned to do when they were young. They do the things they are good at.

The difference is that we became experts at outsides games like “kick the can”, “cops and robbers”, and “scrub baseball”, while kids today tend to become masters of Internet tools like Facebook and video games such as Minecraft.

Physical literacy is essential today because the outdoor games and activities that filled our childhood and helped us develop movement skills have been replaced by games and activities that may develop other cognitive skills, but with a dangerous side-effect: unhealthy sedentary habits.

4. Physical literacy makes play better for kids

Activities and games are to physical literacy what nursery rhymes are to language: a fun and simple way for your child to develop skills they need.

Children will always play given the opportunity, but children who are physically literate will be more confident and will have more fun playing because they know how to run, jump, throw, and all the rest.

Unstructured play remains critically important in the whole process of developing physical literacy, because it gives kids a chance to enjoy and practice all of the movement skills they’ve learned.

What does physical literacy mean to you?

Physical literacy is an emerging concept that matters to parents because it matters so much to kids today. So we’re excited that it was shared with Canadian parents in a national newspaper.

We invite you to read Sarah Boesveld’s article and share your thoughts on physical literacy with thousands of parents just like you.

4 responses to “Physical literacy is simple, fun, and essential for today’s kids

  1. Ah, sorry I didn’t see the response earlier, it didn’t come to my email. But thank you for the thoughtful reply. I completely agree with the two-pronged approach and I try to implement it into my own programming at all times. I also agree that schools are great way to reach all children; however, let us not give up on the communities that surround them :). Thank you again for the response, these are the conversations practitioners, policy-makers, academics, and advocates need to have more!

  2. Essentializing the necessity for physical literacy does put more stress on parents to conform the the “hyper-parenting” phenomenon that has been normalized by white, middle class parents and communities in Canada. But the reality is not all parents will have the ability to evaluate their child’s development (to the standard that is now being precedented in Canada) in the array of literacies needed to be a “productive citizen” in society.
    Further, I have seen Active For Life linking physical literacy to high level sport performance, although I believe this is not your organizations intent, it perpetuates the need for parents to link their child’s different stages of development with “proven” – often very structured – programs ; these programs often cost large amounts of money and are very time consuming.
    I do understand what you mean when you say “physical literacy makes play better for kids”, but again, this statement is a slippery slope towards structuring all play (if you can even call that play), where it is has to be taught and it is not seen as inherent. I do recognize the line about unstructured play, but even linking it with the word practice is problematic. Play has to come from the child – I think we need to keep this notion in mind.
    Right now I sound like one of those cynics who just hide behind their computer and are not part of conversation for the better. With this in mind, I believe we do need to promote physical literacy and the fundamental movements for ALL children; it is how we go about this work that makes it productive or another means of polarizing the diverse population we have – it is not usually the upper-middle class that are harmed in this process. So maybe we should ask questions about who really benefits from the advice we are sharing? Is it realistic for all populations? If not, how do we change our approach to enhance the lives of all Canadians (and not only from our perspective but all perspectives)? What is our ultimate goal? If it is an active, healthy Canada, are we on the right path?

    1. Hi Jared,
      You raise many good points, and these are all things we discuss regularly at Active for Life. I can assure you, we are very much concerned that there is not enough unstructured play in relation to structured play these days. We see the need for a two-pronged approach in reversing children’s inactivity in Canada: promoting both unstructured play and quality structured play. The fact is that kids are simply not playing as much as they used to, so we need to do whatever we can to get them active again. Physical literacy and “practice” of skills through structured programs is part of the approach. As for reaching all kids, that is the ultimate goal for sure, and it will more than likely happen through our schools one day. There is a strong movement to incorporate physical literacy into school PE curriculum – it will be a great accomplishment when it happens!
      Best regards,
      Richard Monette and the AFL team

  3. As a young girl I was never given any help in learning to be physical. It didn’t (and still doesn’t ) come naturally for me. I think that the attitude was “you’re a girl. You don’t need to learn skills”. I have always felt behind and wished someone had taken the time to teach me. My grandchildren are being taught skills while they play and have fun. Their parents enjoy being with them and sharing in their successes. They do NOT feel burdened. It is distressing to read that some parents feel that this is another chore

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