Physical literacy is the “motivation, confidence, physical competence, knowledge and understanding to value and take responsibility for engagement in physical activities for life”-International Physical Literacy Association
Most of us are familiar with the term language literacy. It means we are able to use our language actively and passively in a variety of ways including reading, writing, and speaking. Similarly, the term physical literacy means that we are able to move our bodies with competence and confidence in a wide variety of physical activities across multiple environments (1).
Physical literacy is important to all of us, all across the lifespan from infant to older adults. Infants are just learning to crawl, walk and hold items whereas older adults are trying to preserve their ability to lift, reach and bend to help maintain their independence and perform activities of daily living as they age. And while physical literacy looks different at every age of the lifecycle, for young children it is focused on gaining independence to become healthy, active adolescents.
Studies show that skilled preschoolers make active adolescents!
A young child who is physically literate is one who has the motivation confidence, knowledge, skills, and fitness necessary to enjoy a physically active lifestyle AND who is committed to healthy habitual movement behaviors, including recommended regular physical activity and limited sedentary behavior (2).
This includes factors like:
Just as there are barriers to developing language literacy such as lack of education, limited exposure, socio-economic disparities, etc., there are also barriers to mastering physical literacy. A number of factors can limit a child’s ability to live a healthy active life. These factors include genetic makeup, gender, ethnicity or race. Sometimes families have certain stigmas or societal norms about playing sports (e.g. “girls shouldn’t play ball”). Some children may not come from athletic or active families that support their interest. Children may have economic limitations and some activities are expensive (uniforms, registration, transportation, etc.). Others may have chronic conditions such as asthma or visual or hearing disabilities. Weather conditions or how far a child lives from the park or playground can be a barrier. Or maybe the playgrounds and parks aren’t perceived by the parent as safe. All of these conditions or limitations can hinder a child’s ability to be a healthy, active child and adolescent.
Physical literacy is a journey that everyone takes throughout their life. It is not something one does or does not have, nor something one does or does not do. It is the individual’s lived experience of physical activity.
Healthy Kids Resource Center
A one-stop shop for evidence-based research, resources, curricula, activities and materials that focus on obesity prevention for teachers and parents of young children. It is designed to educate parents and teachers as well as provide the tools needed to teach young children how to live a healthy lifestyle.
Lindsay, A. and Byington, T., 2020, What Is Physical Literacy? | Early Start, Active for Life, Extension | University of Nevada, Reno, FS-20-13
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