As a parent I only ever wanted two things for my children: for them to flourish and thrive, and for them to meaningfully participate in the world. As a result, I strongly encouraged and facilitated the development of literacy and numeracy in my children.
From a historical perspective, literacy campaigns started in the early 1900s, and as a result of this century-long crusade we are the most knowledgeable society in the history of the world. This has afforded us many benefits, for instance, truly amazing advances in health care. But despite our knowledge, we have regressed as a nation in our physical and mental health. Knowing does not mean doing.
So what is the missing puzzle piece to becoming a healthy society rather than a health-care society? I believe it is physical literacy. If you equip a child with the ability to move, like you would equip a child with the alphabet, you open the door to possibilities. Conversely, if you don’t, you close the door on participation.
A language arts teacher contributes to the development of literate children, but we know it takes a literate community to raise a literate child. Similarly, a physical education teacher contributes to developing the physical literacy of our children, but it takes co-ordinated community action and a society that values movement to fulfill the potential.
Children who develop a variety of movement skills can choose to participate in most any activity they desire. A child who possesses entry-level competence in movement skills will generally be more confident about moving and as a result be more motivated to move. You would not allow a child to learn the alphabet from A to G! Similarly, children need minimal competence in the A to Zs of land-based movement skills like walking, running, throwing, catching, balancing, etc. Talk to your physical education teacher and, just as importantly, your principal about physical literacy. Schools should value and provide quality physical literacy experiences for children in phys ed class, at recess and in after-school programs so that all children have the ability to thrive and participate.
We need to create a culture that values physical literacy on an equal footing with literacy and numeracy. This will take many decades, but like literacy, we have to start the campaign. So roll up your sleeves and fight for physical literacy for life so that we all can flourish and participate.
Want to learn more about physical literacy?
Dr. Dean Kriellaars is an exercise physiologist who works in rehabilitation and high-performance sport. An associate professor of physical therapy at the University of Manitoba, Kriellaars is a recognized expert in physical literacy and has pioneered programs that have been adopted nationwide.
Patrice Aubertin is the director of research and teacher training at the National Circus School in Montréal. He is a former acrobatic coach for Cirque du Soleil.