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Physical Literacy and Youth

 As a society we understand the value of developing literacy skills at an early age.

Literacy skills are all the skills needed for reading and writing. They include such things as awareness of the sounds of language, awareness of print, and the relationship between letters and sounds. Other literacy skills include vocabulary, spelling, and comprehension.

It is also well understood the importance of numeracy skills, – the ability to use numbers and solve problems in real life. It means having the confidence and skill to use numbers and mathematical approaches in all aspects of life. Numeracy is as important as literacy.

 Equally important are physical literacy skills, but not everyone understands the significance.  By definition, physical literacy is “the motivation, confidence, physical competence, knowledge, and understanding to value and take responsibility for engagement in physical activities for life." In simple terms, a movement vocabulary of fundamental movement and fundamental sport skills.

Emphasis has always been placed on the importance of learning to read and write and the same emphasis should be placed on learning physical literacy skills.

When young people have the opportunity to learn a wide range of physical skills they develop building blocks. With a baseline of movement skills and sports skills a young person will develop the competence and confidence to be active.

Research indicates that today’s youth are much less active than in the past. Only 7% of Canadian children get enough daily exercise. In contrast, the average child spends 6 hours a day in front of a screen. The new generations are at risk of a shorter lifespan than their parents. The risks are: poor quality of physical, cultural, intellectual, social, and mental health.

The most important step toward developing physical literacy is the mastering of fundamental movement skills. The basic skills: catching, jumping, running, throwing and hopping to name a few. All of these skills should be practised in and around, water, snow, ice, land and air.

Mastery does not happen all at once. For almost every skill, a developing child needs to go through a series of developmental stages.  All recreational and sports programs need to be designed according to the developmental stages of children and youth.

The main focus of all sport and recreational programming should be on the best interests of the kids themselves – which means sport and physical activity is developmentally appropriate, safe and inclusive, and well run – and not focused or programmed on the goals of the programmer, coaches, teacher or parents.

Every person should have the opportunity to develop physical literacy. Program coordinators, leaders, and facility operators have a responsibility to create universally accessible physical literacy opportunities.

There are tremendous benefits to children and youth learning basic fundamental movements as research has shown it has an important role in improving their overall health. Physically literate children are going to be more comfortable in joining any activity, resulting in increased participation.

Kids who have fun playing a sport or taking part in physical activity are more likely to stay active and healthy for their entire lifetime. They are likely to develop a higher level of physical literacy and also have a better chance to pursue excellence in sport. Designed properly, children’s sport can be fun, while providing exciting challenges, and rich skill development.

The most important thing as parents, coaches, leaders and teachers is to be persistent and encourage young people! Motivate them – in successes as in failures. Encourage them to give that extra effort to try, over and over again, and gradually, to expand their physical abilities.  Being confident about one’s physical skills is one component of physical literacy. When you want to try a new sport, it helps to know that you have the abilities to succeed. Knowledge and mastery of basic fundamental skills help build confidence.

The Peterborough community offers many recreational and sports programs. These programs are great opportunities for your kids to have fun and engage in physical activities that will help them develop the baseline of movement and sports skills. Having fun is the best way to learn!

Downtown Youth Space is operated by the Recreation Division staff with the City of Peterborough. It is open 5 days a week Monday to Friday from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. It is in the lower level of PACE at PCVS at 201 McDonnel Street. This is a great space for youth ages 13-18 to have the opportunity to develop their physical literacy skills among many other things.