Putting the Fun in Physical Literacy

It’s a typical chaotic morning leading Kindergym. Fifty children under the age of five arrive at a gym full of scooters, hula hoops, teeter totters and other fun options The grand finale is the highly anticipated parachute time. Playing with the parachute with the rest of the group gives the little ones a chance to put both their teamwork skills and their muscles to work. They develop social skills, gain physical strength, and improve their rhythm, all the while being encouraged by their equally-excited parents.

Kindergym is just one example of places where children have the chance to gain skills that contribute to their physical health. This is also known as Physical Literacy. Physical Literacy is having the skills, confidence and the love of movement to be active for life.

We can encourage physical development in almost any environment. Parents don’t need to be Serena Williams or Usain Bolt to teach physical literacy skills. And your child doesn’t need to be the next David Beckham or a Sedin twin to develop physical literacy skills. All movement skills—like running, stomping, jumping and passing—contribute to a child’s physical literacy. Children who form healthy lifestyle patterns from a young age are shown to have increased confidence, ability to cooperate and better overall health.

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Leading Kindergym has shown me how easy it is to make positive changes. In just weeks, children can go from watching their parent throw a ball to being able to grip the ball and toss it back.

These accomplishments make both children and parents happy. Developing physical literacy doesn’t have to be difficult, competitive or time consuming. It can be incorporated into daily activities that the whole family can enjoy.

There are many organizations across Vancouver Island—from preschools and daycares to organized sports and recreation programs—that provide opportunities to develop physical literacy skills. Despite their benefits, these programs can be costly, not fit into your schedule, or be targeted to an age group that might be either too young or too old for your child. That’s why it’s important build these skills at home as well as through community programs. As parents, you can incorporate physical literacy skills into your daily routine with your children.

Below is a list of three everyday situations where you can incorporate physical literacy. These activities use very little or no equipment, and can be fun for both parents and children. While your family may already be doing some of these activities, the main takeaway is that it doesn’t matter what your child is doing, as long as they are excited to move and play.

1. Encourage free outdoor play. With so many parks, fields and beaches around Vancouver Island, it’s easy to let your child explore nature from a young age. Whether it’s jumping in puddles, throwing rocks into the ocean or climbing the monkey bars at the local park, outdoor unstructured play improves physical fitness and also impacts social, emotional and cognitive development.

2. Make household tasks fun. Even young children can help around the house. This allows them to move their bodies in many different ways—and may even help you out with chores! Children can help to water the plants, pull weeds in the garden, play “Pick Up 5,” a game in which everyone picks up and puts away five toys to a set time. Play “Find the Biggest Dust Bunny” or take a walk outside to take out the garbage. These are just a few examples of chores that help young children develop muscle strength, hand-eye coordination and motor skills.

3. Plan family activities. Children don’t miss a thing. They watch very closely and will follow the actions of those around them. I encourage you as parents to demonstrate fun physical literacy and to take on activities and games as a family. If you have the opportunity to head outdoors, try after dinner walks, play catch in the backyard or hold a family relay that includes moves like the bear walk, crab walk, three-legged race. If you’re staying indoors, play some music and have a family dance party or follow a yoga tutorial for families on YouTube.

Physical, emotional, social and cognitive development come at different times for all children. Physical activity benefits the whole child and provides valuable skills for a lifetime. Regular encouragement will help them do their best and reach their full potential. Children model the behaviour of the adults in their lives—so parents, you lead the way!

• For children’s activities, indoors and outdoors, visit the Active for Life websit e at activeforlife.com/activities.

• For a comprehensive list of physical activity benefits and age-group specific guidelines, visit the ParticipACTION website at participaction.com/en-ca.

Erin Davidson is a recent graduate of the University of Victoria’s School of Public Health & Social Policy. She wrote this article while on practicum with Island Health’s Healthy Schools Program.