Originally published: December 2022


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Literacy skills help a child to use words to express their thoughts and feelings. It also helps them connect to other people and understand the world outside of them. Like reading and writing, physical literacy gives children the skills to learn, participate in, and enjoy physical activity.

If that’s literacy, then what’s physical literacy?

Physical literacy is moving with confidence and control in a variety of physical activities and settings. Children can learn movement skills through both unstructured free play and structured games or activities. Exploring and learning movement skills support brain development, social skills, and builds self-esteem and confidence. Developing physical literacy in the early years helps children be physically active for life.

Why is physical literacy important?

Learning basic movement skills such as running, jumping, kicking, throwing and catching are the building blocks for physical activity. Developing physical literacy gives your child the skills, confidence and motivation to try new things while also helping them build up physical activity minutes as part of their day.

Why is phyiscal activity important?

In Canada, the 24-hour movement guidelines recommend children get 60 minutes of heart pumping physical activity each day. These guidelines are based on research that outline the amount of physical activity that can improve and protect both a person’s physical and mental health.

How can I help my child grow their physical literacy skills?

Build the foundation

Starting with basic skills like running, jumping and balancing is like learning the alphabet. Just as knowing the letters of the alphabet is needed to start to learn words, knowing some basic physical skills can lead to learning more advanced skills. 

You can practice fundamental movement skills on the go! Moving with your child helps them understand that anyone can play and have fun at any age.

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Skip with your child to the mailbox to check the mail
  • Balance on one foot while brushing your teeth together
  • Play catch with stuffed animals in the house or in the backyard
  • Have a family dance party in the kitchen and try dancing up high and down low to the floor for an extra challenge!

For more ideas on how to practice fundamental movement skills at home, go to: Active for life - Activities for kids.

Try different places and spaces

Developing physical literacy can include learning how to move in a variety of environments. This can include:

  • on the ground: playing games, dancing, wheeling
  • in the air: diving, gymnastics, swinging
  • on the snow and ice: sledding, skiing, sled hockey
  • in and around water: swimming, kayaking, canoeing

Moving in a variety of spaces and on different surfaces helps kids be more physically active, it also helps them develop basic life skills. For example, learning how to move on snow and ice is an important safety skill here in Canada, and can help prevent falls and injuries during the winter.

Spending time outdoors, all year-round, is an excellent way for children to develop physical literacy. Spending time in natural places can also support their mental health and overall well-being.

Dressing for the weather is important to children having a positive experience outside.  If they feel comfortable—not too hot or too cold—they are more likely to want to do it again!

For tips on dressing for the weather, see MyHealth.Alberta.ca:

For ideas on how to stay active outdoors as a family year-round check out Active for Life: Recipe for an active year.

Variety is the key to success

It can be tempting to focus in on your child’s favourite activity, but variety is also important. Children who try a range of movements in different environments will become more physically literate. This opens the door for them to participate in a wide variety of activities throughout their lifetime. Specializing in one sport or activity too early can limit their potential and affect their long-term development. If your child wants to become better in one sport or activity, have them chose another sport or activity in the off season. Taking this approach also helps to prevent injuries, which is important so they can continue to play and be active.

Keep it Fun

If you are wondering what the best activities are for your child—ask them! The most important factor is FUN. When an activity is fun and helps build social connections, children are more likely to keep participating. Let them lead and join in where you can—for the fun of it!

For more information about physical activity and physical literacy:

For helping children with special needs develop physical literacy, see this article from Active for Life: Special-needs children: 5 ways to help their physical literacy flourish

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