Physical literacy is a journey not a destination

A decade ago, the term “physical literacy” was relatively unknown and rarely used. Instead, when talking about being active you would hear terms like exercisephysical fitness, and physical activity. But fast forward a few years and now the term physical literacy is on everyone’s lips.  It has spread like wildfire with recreation professionals, coaches, teachers, and physical activity researchers. Gone are the days when physical fitness was the sole indicator of child’s level of physical activity. Now, high importance is placed on supporting and fostering a child’s capacity to be physically active, or what we would define as his or her physical literacy.

While physical literacy is a common term to those working in the field, to many it remains a foreign concept. Understandably so, since we never had an official definition for the term. Thankfully, Canada released its Physical Literacy Consensus Statement this past June. Now we can understand and accept that “physical literacy is the motivation, confidence, physical competence, knowledge and understanding to value and take responsibility for engagement in physical activities for life” (International Physical Literacy Association, May 2014). Like language literacy enables a child to read and write, physical literacy describes the skills necessary for a child to be physically active in multiple environments.

In short, physical literacy is important because it provides children with the building blocks to be physically active. So if a child knows how to throw a ball, he or she can play baseball, or if a child knows how to kick a soccer ball, he or she can play soccer. And while it is important for children to develop their physical literacy, it is not something that can fully be achieved or acquired.  In other words one cannot be “physically literate”. Instead we are each on our own physical literacy journey and each child will be at his or her own level of physical literacy at any given time.

To help support and foster children on their physical literacy journey, the Healthy Active Living and Obesity Research Group developed the Canadian Assessment of Physical Literacy. The CAPL is a comprehensive assessment that examines all 4 fundamental aspects of physical literacy: physical competence, knowledge and understanding, motivation and confidence, and daily behaviour for children 8 to 12 years of age. It is the only physical literacy assessment that accurately assesses physical literacy in a reliable way. Meaning that if children are assessed by different people the same physical literacy results will be obtained.

What further sets CAPL apart is that once children finish the assessment, parents and providers can log in to the CAPL website to find out if their children are beginning, progressing, achieving or excelling on their physical literacy journey, based on their results. Primed with these interpretations, adults working with children can help them further develop their skills and move along their physical literacy journey. Which means that more children will have the building blocks they need to maintain a physically active lifestyle.

While terms like exercise and physical fitness are still valued in the field of physical activity, a higher value is now placed on physical literacy because it provides the stepping stones for improving physical fitness and activity. Having the knowledge to help lay those stepping stones through physical literacy assessment will help foster future generations and help children progress on their own physical literacy journeys.

This post was written by Stacey Alpous, MHK, CSEP-CEP and Research Coordinator at the Healthy Active Living and Obesity Research Group at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario.

Source: Longmuir, P.E., Boyer, C., Lloyd, M., Yang, Y., Boiarshaia, E., Zhu, W., Tremblay, M.S. (2015). The Canadian Assessment of Physical Literacy: methods for children in grades 4 to 6 (8 to 12 years). BMC Public Health. 15(1), 767.

ParticipACTION and the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador are working together, with support from Recreation NL, to inspire families to make physical activity a higher priority in daily life.