The Importance of Charting Physical Literacy

In Canada it has taken 10 years to get Physical Literacy to the start line. We now have physical literacy embedded in public policy. Major corporations have started investing in national initiatives aimed at advancing physical literacy. National, provincial/territorial and municipal organizations are evolving their programming so children gain confidence, desire and the capability to move in multiple environments from a young age. Parents are now educating themselves about what physical literacy is, and looking for it in their children’s programs. As well, dialogues around physical literacy for older adults are starting to happen as we recognize both the lifelong value of physical literacy and the possibility of huge health care savings – by reducing injuries related simply to falling.

While solely promoting the concept has considerable value, charting physical literacy is very important. Here is a quick personal story…

A number of years ago my daughter, who was in Grade 3 at the time, brought home her report card. She received one of three grades in each subject: below expectations, meeting expectations, or exceeding expectations. For her Physical Education class, she received meeting expectations. This struck me as a bit odd, as my daughter loved taking part in sports and is considered by many as “talented”. I asked her about the grade and she said that all the kids received the same grade. This also struck me as odd, so I asked the teacher if this is true. It turns out it was true as the educators didn’t know how to accurately assess physical education levels, nor did they want to “hurt kids’ feelings” by giving them a poor grade. Therefore, everyone received a blanket satisfactory grade of ‘meeting expectations’.

But this standardized grade didn’t tell parents anything at all. It didn’t indicate whether a child flourished or struggled when it came to physical activity. It didn’t point out the areas in which a child needed help. It simply masked a gap that existed in physical education curriculum. Imagine if schools gave all students a blanket, inaccurate grade in English, math or science because their educators didn’t have effective assessment tools! Physical education has taken a back seat to academics, which is alarming given that obesity and inactivity levels are reaching epidemic proportions around the globe.

For the physical education of our children to be considered on par with math, languages and sciences, there is a need to chart each individual’s progress, assess program effectiveness, and monitor the population’s physical literacy. This will enable policy makers, from local education authorities to national governments, to value and invest in physical literacy development within our communities.

In Canada a variety of assessment tools have been created, and these are continuing to evolve.

One assessment is the Physical Literacy Assessment for Youth (PLAY) tools, which we are using now in hundreds of after-school programs in Canada to determine children’s physical literacy levels. By recording online data using PLAYfun and PLAYself, we are now able to say that physical literacy is the gateway to active participation. So, while millions of dollars are spent annually in most nations around the globe on promoting physical activity, we are now able to make a case that investment should be directed to ensure children are physical literate, and then increased activity will likely occur. With assessment we can make the case that physically literate children don’t only perform better in school, but they are more likely to be active throughout the life course. They have the competence, confidence and motivation not only to take part in sport and physical activity, but also to take on challenges in life.

Photo: BK