Promoting physical activity is far more simple than providing kids with a physical education. This leads to common questions like "why is physical education so much more important?" or "what is the difference between physical activity and physical education?". Simply put, physical education helps develop physical literacy. Physical activity alone, does not. Using every gimmick under the sun to get people active provides a band-aid solution at attempting to put a long-term dent in rising physical inactivity levels across our population. In comparison, physical literacy provides a cure.
Physical literacy is the motivation, confidence, physical competence, knowledge and understanding to value and take responsibility for engagement in physical activities for life. (Physical Literacy Association, 2014). This can be a pretty loaded statement and somewhat intimidating to a general audience. It is important that we break down in its simplest form what literacy is. Literacy as defined by “competence or knowledge in a specified area”. Couple this definition with Physical which alludes to the physical domain; how we move, fitness, skills, and our very own physical health and well-being. Ultimately, Physical Literacy is understanding and competence of how the body moves and why we should be moving.
Over 30% of the population in the United States and 23% in Canada is considered obese. Physical activity rates and participation in sport is trending downward. These are major concerns for the overall health of our society in general, but where do we start?
Laying the foundation for long-term participation in physical activity starts when we are young. In order to willingly participate in a wide variety of games and sports for the rest of our lives, a foundation of movement skills and fitness must be present. Competence in fundamental movement skills creates confidence to pursue physical activity for life. This is because we are more confident engaging in actives when we have the skill set to actually do them. Would you feel confident changing your own oil if no one ever taught you how? Likely not, so you avoid engaging in that activity by paying someone else to do it for you. Unfortunately, we can't pay others to be physically active for us in order to receive the benefits from these activities we do not have the skills to do. Instead, we must make sure everyone learns these hard physical skills through education.
Physical education that develops movement competence considers three main things:
- What skills are being taught
- When we are teaching them
- How we are teaching them
What skills are being taught - We must teach a variety of fundamental human movements, and this is important. Teaching a child how to throw could open opportunities for them to pursue baseball, softball, football, basketball, handball, water polo, javelin, and more. Generic transferable skills may open doors to achieving success with other sports.
When we are teaching them - Timing is another critical component. Growth and development science indicates there are windows of time during which we can develop movement skills and physical capacities at an accelerated rate. These are commonly termed windows of trainability. The window of trainability for movement skills occurs from 7-8 years old until the onset of puberty (typically from 11-13 years old). This makes it essential for parents, coaches, and teachers to facilitate the learning process with children through demonstrating and teaching proper movement form so that children can mimic the proper skills.
If we can begin emphasizing the importance of developing physical literacy through quality physical education programs, we can lay the foundation for a future where everyone wants to engage in physical activity and sport because they are competent and confident skillful movers. Check out this link for more physical literacy resources.