Physical literacy defined
“Physical literacy,” says Natalie Toman, is “the confidence to engage in physical activity … If kids are getting out there and are enjoying [an activity],” skill comparisons to others don’t matter as much as the fact that “they’re enjoying the sport itself.” In her role as Health Promotion Lead at ParticipACTION, Toman emphasizes that kids’ joy in sport “really lends itself to [current and future] physical literacy. If [later in life], they can remember having fun when they were kids and being physically active, they’re more likely to repeat that experience.”
To her, physical literacy consists of “feeling really confident, wanting to engage and hopefully [adopt activity] for the rest of your life.” This involves knowledge of the benefits of exercise, a sense of motivation and a willingness to engage in activities they enjoy.
Why is physicality beneficial?
“There’s a connection between physical literacy in childhood and adulthood,” she says. “Adults who are physically literate tend to be more active.” It’s important to develop physical literacy as early as possible, to create a foundation that children can carry forward into adulthood. “As we get older, it’s really important that physical activity be a part of our lives.” It helps with both injury prevention and disease prevention, she says.
Physical activity also:
- reduces the risk of medical conditions like obesity, diabetes and heart disease.
- results in a healthier heart and lungs
- improves sleep schedules
- increases flexibility
- helps control weight
In addition, there’s also a mental health boost from physical activity. It can boost your mood, enhance self-esteem, and reduce stress, depression and anxiety. In addition, children who participate in a team sport like soccer learn how to be physically active with other people, enhance social skills, and learn the value of teamwork.
How to assess physical literacy
“For a person watching,” Toman explains, “physical literacy can be seen by the enjoyment of a child, through their confidence and ability.” She believes that a good way to measure physical literacy is to see how a child responds to a physical activity. “When you see a group of children together, a physically literate child would be the one who would jump right into a sport or physical endeavour.” ‘
In contrast, a child does not reflect this behaviour may not be as physically literate. This, too, though, can be seen as an opportunity to enhance their ability. “When you see a child who doesn’t jump right to it, perhaps we should look a little bit at the environment, the opportunity, and see how we can help that child develop the confidence and interest [level] to want to be involved with physical activity.”
An important part of physical literacy is kids’ interaction with friends and appreciation for outdoors.
How is physical literacy developed?
“Opportunity is a big part of physical literacy,” says Toman. “It would be really hard for one to develop physical literacy if there wasn’t an opportunity to do so.” Camp, she says “is a strong influencer in physical literacy in children.” There are other environments, too, that develop and nurture the growth of physical literacy, but camp is as good as any, in motivating children to be physically active through things like outdoor play-time and group activities, as well as gym time.
Encourage your child to take part in camps and activities they enjoy. This will motivate them to remain physically active outside of camp and school . For example, if they go to basketball camp, they’ll practice basketball at home as well. A camp with physical activity will encourage kids to reduce screen-time and direct more energy to physical activity. An important part of physical literacy is kids’ increased activity, interaction with friends and appreciation for outdoors.
Prior to ParticipACTION, Toman worked in several day camps, leading outdoor activities there. Here, she learned the importance of role modeling for children.“If [adults] are going to express good physical literacy, [they need to prioritize] role modelling.” If your child sees you participate in healthy eating and physical activity, they’re more likely to do the same. Leaders at camps with high physical activity are also critical, either as reinforcement, or in the absence of other models.
Other physically active things you can do together include walks, bike rides, swimming or skating. You can also encourage your child to help around the house, with preparing a healthy recipe, gardening or raking leaves.
Through all this, though, she stresses the importance of enjoyment in physicality, over any focus on competition or skill perfection. “We want to [ensure] children are encountering many different sports and skills,” she emphasizes, “and that [they focus on the] experience.” Fun, enjoyment, and learning are key to developing physical literacy, whereas any focus on competition and winning can sometimes thwart or frustrate the development of this important character trait.
Want your child to enhance their physical literacy?
ParticipACTION provides opportunities to both children and adults so they can develop physical literacy by focusing on skill accruement. The organization focuses on developing children’s confidence while performing physical actvities.
Of course, camps like those below offer an emphasis on physical activity and the development of a physical literacy that’s personal for each child. These provide a foundation for a lifetime of enjoyment in exercise and fitness, because they make it fun, social, and engaging.