Physical literacy and its role in early childhood education has become an important topic of discussion. So what does physical literacy really mean? And how is it different from physical education? Defined by Physical Literacy and The Early Years,
“Physical literacy is the motivation, confidence, physical competence, knowledge and understanding to value and take responsibility for engagement in physical activities for life”.
Margaret Whitehead, a spearhead of the concept, describes physical literacy as instilling “the intrinsic value of physical activity”.
In other words, physical literacy is the result of engaging in and learning about physical activity. It is the goal of physical education.
As early childhood educators, we work to create positive experiences exploring all forms of bodily motion. We don’t specifically instruct children how to move – just provide the opportunity to try different types of movement and physical activities.
Physical literacy in children helps:
- Develop physical skills associated to movement (balance, coordination, strength)
- Learn how to cooperate with others
- Build confidence
- Bring enjoyment of physical activity into adulthood
- Increase the likelihood of a lifelong commitment to active lifestyles
Why is early physical literacy important?
Children are always exploring the world around them and learning from experiences. Playing organized games and sports teaches kids how to use their bodies effectively, develop skills like coordination and spatial awareness, and builds confidence and self-esteem.
Developing skills and competence early in life is what helps keep children motivated as they get older and make their own decisions about living an active lifestyle. Continuing to choose to engage in physical activity can have a great impact on individuals (and society as a whole):
- Fostering an interest and a love for sport and activity helps counteract inactivity and the epidemic of overweight and obese children (and adults).
- Physically active lifestyles have been connected to higher quality of life and reduced health complications.
Additional benefits of early physical literacy
Children’s cognitive development is supported as they learn and practice following directions, taking turns, and working as a team. A recent study showed reports that children who received enhanced physical literacy had 88% improved cognitive development.
Improved cognitive development
- Better focus
- Greater problem solving skills
- More patience and persistence in the face of struggle or challenge
The same study reported children who received the enhanced physical literacy demonstrated social and emotional improvements as well.
Social and emotional benefits
- Behaviour management and self-regulation
- More imaginative
- Improved listening and cooperation
- Improved teamwork and friendship building
The responsibility of educators and parents alike is to be aware of developmental stages of children and know the fundamentals of a complete physical literacy program. This article from Human Kinetics is a good guide to cover some basics.
The ages from birth to five years are formative in every way for children. Building good habits and instilling physical activity as a part of a healthy lifestyle is crucial for development and goes far beyond those early years.