The early years of childhood are exceptionally important to all forms of literacy. Literacy and early childhood development have been on my mind today as I've been working on my portion of a presentation for a group of super-cool, intelligent women at a Girl Geek dinner being held next week at our library. For them, I'll be talking about Digital Literacy, because we are only just beginning to understand the impact of new technology and media on learning to read, write, learn, and socialize. In my line of work, "literacy" always has to do with the mind.
So, I was somewhat surprised to come across the term "physical literacy." Surely, we've been talking about the need for physical activity in children for long enough that this should not be a new thing. Right?
Well, yeah. Kids have been doing their own form of physical literacy for generations. Calling it physical literacy really just brings an old idea back into focus, and using "literacy" gives validity to being active. It's an interesting way of thinking about activity, though. Rather than playing (which puts the focus on creativity and imagination), or sports (which is structured, social, and competitive), talking about exercise in terms of literacy brings it back to the concept of building a foundation. Teaching basic movement skills so that opportunities are present later on.
I had the opportunity to watch some of my friends' young children in a dance recital this weekend. I saw a lot of bodies, a lot of movement, and a lot of sequins and tutus. What struck me was how you could tell, even at the ages of two to five, that some kids were naturals at dance, and others ... had fun. But the basics were being taught. The focus was less on timing and intricate choreography. It was balance and simple steps and a twirl here and there, doing actions to match the words of the music, and keeping a general beat. As I sat there smiling, enjoying the costumes and art and pure joy of dance in some of the performers, I thought "yeah, THIS is physical literacy."
You can't learn to read before you learn your letters, you don't learn to write until you learn to hold a pen, you don't learn how stories work before you play with a book and practice turning pages. Physical literacy is the same. If you never learn to walk and balance and jump, you'll never try dance or baseball or gymnastics. You don't learn to pirouette until you can hop on one foot. Before you can swim laps, you have to be comfortable putting your face in the water, so we spend a lot of time learning how to blow bubbles. Foundational steps:
It all comes back to balance. Focusing only on one area doesn't allow for balanced growth. We all need the basic foundational skills in all areas as children, so that we try things out in order to figure out where our skills and passions lie.
I wonder, too, how much putting the skills together helps to reinforce the literacy? For example, we offer the DrumFit program at the library. Using music and storytelling, children participate actively by banging drumsticks rhythmically on giant stability balls. The same ones we use at the gym. It blends the physical with the educational and it is all literacy. I'll be looking for brain-based research about the connection between learning and movement: do people learn better when there is a literal mind-muscle connection?
In other words, the things which kept me physical were the areas which had been developed the most as a child.
Physical literacy. I didn't train my body to do certain kinds of movements at an early age, and not only are they harder to learn now, it led to a disinterest in sports altogether. "A child with good physical literacy skills will be more likely to get involved in sports and continue to be physically active later in life, proponents say." As one parent notes in a National Post article, we used to think that reading and activity were mutually exclusive. You were an active kid, or you were a bookworm.
Why can't you be both? Thinking about things in terms of literacy opens up the way we approach teaching children. Instead of being active for the sake of weight management, or even health, teaching children different ways to move is as essential to their future as learning the alphabet is.
- article in National Post: New concept of physical literacy has parents wondering if they need to teach their kids how to play now, too
- Active For Life: articles specific to Physical Literacy
- Fizika Active Learning principle and method
- Canadian Sport for Life: what is physical literacy?