The words Physical Literacy are in the news a lot, but do you understand what the term really means?

 If you’re a parent, odds are that you enjoyed a more active childhood than your own kids do today. As kids, we played outside at every opportunity and did so much jumping, running, throwing, catching, and game-playing, that we’d fall into bed exhausted… but happily so.

We never for a moment stopped to consider that all of our activity was helping us build physical literacy – and neither did our parents. The term ‘physical literacy,’ often used today, sounds complicated, but isn’t. Still, it has many parents mystified.

What is Physical Literacy? 

Physical literacy is actually quite a simple concept. It’s about developing necessary movement skills in kids in order to give them the confidence to participate in active play, games and sports throughout life.

We acquired these fundamental movement skills in large part through active outdoor play – at the park, playing with friends and siblings, in physical education class, on community-based teams, and even by powering ourselves to school and around our neighbourhoods. Acquiring these skills and building upon them, is what gave us the confidence to play baseball, tennis, to participate in organized games like tag, and to make physical activity and exercise part of our adults lives. Even at this stage of life, with two teen daughters, I have the confidence and physical ability to challenge myself with new activities – things like climbing, snowboarding, and hip-hop dance.

Unfortunately, we’re not seeing the same outcomes in so many of today’s children – only 7% of Canadian kids and teens are active enough for health benefits. With this concerning reality in mind, it’s no wonder older children often lack the confidence to join sports teams, to try new activities, and all too often, can’t wait to ‘drop’ physical education class at school.

According to Winnipeg physical education teacher, Blue Jay Bridge, “being physically literate is crucial for giving adults the desire and confidence to experience many of the adventures life offers. Whether it be hiking up a mountain in Banff, snorkelling in Hawaii, canoeing and camping in Lake of the Woods or playing on a recreational team at your community centre”. The required desire and confidence come from acquiring fundamental movement and sport skills as a child. Without the development of physical literacy, many children, teens, and later as adults, withdraw from physical activity and sport choosing more sedentary and often unhealthy pursuits with which to fill their leisure time.

As parents, we can’t rely on schools and physical education teachers, however skilled, to ensure our kids get the daily physical activity they need – nor can we charge them with the responsibility of building physical literacy in our children. We are responsible for the health and wellbeing of our kids, and this includes ensuring they get the daily active play and exercise they need and deserve.

How You Can Help Your Child Develop Physical Literacy

  1. Make time to be active as a family every day.
  2. Encourage outdoor play.
  3. Be an active role model and encourage your kids to be active from infancy.
  4. Provide access to sports equipment and toys that promote active play (balls, jump ropes, hula hoops, skates, a tennis racquet, etc.).
  5. Encourage your child’s natural interest in exploring and playing.
  6. Encourage structured and unstructured activities.
  7. Introduce your kids to the active games you enjoyed as a child.
  8. Allow your kids to take risks in the playground (i.e. climbing the monkey bars or a tree). If and when they do get hurt, don’t scold, forbid the activity or instill fear. Focus on the positive (“WOW, you’re so good at climbing!”) and not the negative.
  9. Advocate for physical education and active outdoor play at your child’s school.
  10. Talk to your kids about the benefits of being active at every stage of life.