The Regional Municipality Of York


Physical Literacy

Physical literacy is the development of fundamental movement skills that are needed for daily activities, physical activity, sport and movement. Physical literacy is essential for children’s optimal growth and development. It sets the path for a life-long relationship with physical activity, learning new skills, and good physical and mental health. Although physical literacy can be developed at any stage in life, it is best to start early because intensive brain development forming the critical neural connections occurs in the first five years of life.

Video: Learning to be active at a young age is extremely important because active kids become active adults – who are positive role models.

What is physical literacy?

Physical literacy:

An illustration showing that motivation, physical competence and confidence together contribute to physical literacy
Physical literacy consists of the combination of motivation, confidence and physical competence. When one develops physical literacy, one will become competent in fundamental movement skills and will have confidence and motivation to stay active for life.  (Courtesy of Sport for Life)
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Fundamental movement skills

Fundamental movement skills are basic movements on land, in the air, in the water and on ice or snow that involve various body parts. These movement skills form the basis of physical literacy and need to be learned and practised by children to build competence in their movements and confidence in their abilities.

Fundamental movement skills include:

  • Locomotor skills that enable moving through space, such as walking, running, jumping, hopping, skipping, swimming, skating and climbing
  • Non-locomotor skills, such as balance and stretching
  • Skills that enable manipulation of objects, such as throwing, catching, hitting, kicking and dribbling
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Why is physical literacy important?

Physical literacy is as important to children as reading literacy, numeracy and music. It is the gateway to physical activity.

This chart shows that physical literacy is the same as reading, numeracy and music literacies. To build literacy, one has to learn and practise the building blocks before advancing to more complicated skills and tasks.
Physical literacy is the same as reading, numeracy and music literacies. To build literacy, one has to learn and practise the building blocks before advancing to more complicated skills and tasks. For physical literacy, when one has learned and practised a diverse repertoire of fundamental movement skills, these skills can be combined to form sequences of action. Using these sequences of action together, one will be able to participate in a variety of tasks/activities in recreation, sports, daily living, career and performance arts.  (Adapted from Sport for Life)

Only 62 per cent of the three to four year-olds and only 35 per cent of the 5 to 17 years old meet the physical activity recommendations of the Canadian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines; and only 36 per cent of eight to 12 year-olds meet or exceed the minimum level recommended for physical literacy ( The 2018 ParticipACTION Report Card on Physical Activity).

Due to increased screen time and lack of physical activity, there is an increase in obesity, a decrease in fitness in children and an increase in the risk for chronic diseases later in life, such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke, some cancers, osteoporosis and depression.

With physical literacy, children will have competence and confidence to participate in a variety of physical activities and settings. They will progress to more complex skills used in sports, leisure activities and vocations, and continue to be active throughout their life. Also, they are more likely to make healthy lifestyle choices.

The Development of Physical Literacy

Kids develop physical literacy gradually.

  • From birth to age three: encourage early movement
  • Between ages three and five: expand on play and keep it fun
  • Between ages five and eight: increase the focus on fundamental movement skills
  • Between ages eight and 12: introduce more complex skills as kids are ready

Adapted from

Children who are physically active are likely to:

  • Be ready to learn and do better in school
  • Be healthy and more fit
  • Have healthier body weight
  • Have stronger bones and muscles, hand-eye coordination and good posture
  • Have better sleeping patterns, reduced anxiety and depression
  • Develop emotional maturity
  • Feel good about themselves
  • Have better social skills and leadership abilities
  • Stay away from unhealthy habits
  • Enjoy physical activity and stay active for life
  • Achieve personal success
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What can you do to enhance physical literacy in children?

As an educator (teachers, coaches, early childhood educators, etc.):

  • Be positive role models
  • Provide opportunities for children to develop and practise the fundamental movement skills including use of nature and outdoor play
  • Encourage children to move and positively reinforce their efforts. Allow children to guide activities based on their interests and building on their ideas
  • Ensure children have ample rest between activities
  • Facilitate activities that use a wide variety of fundamental movement skills
  • Model and encourage determination as they learn new and challenging movements
  • Promote the building of children’s resilience and critical thinking by facilitating the use of learned skills in new and exciting environments
  • Modify activities for children of differing developmental abilities
  • Foster an environment that supports learning through practice and ensures children can regulate their emotions, behaviour and attention in order to cope with the demands of their situation
  • Support children in learning self-regulation during play so they can improve their ability to self-regulate in more challenging environments

Physical Literacy Handbook for Early Childhood Educators

As a parent:

  • Be positive active role models
  • Provide opportunities for children to develop and practise fundamental movement skills
  • Spend time to play together with your children. This will improve the bonding with your children
  • Coach your children on fundamental movement skills, praising them for success
  • Provide children with options for play, observing and listening to how they have fun
  • Ensure that children take ample rest between activities
  • Encourage outdoor active play
  • Encourage children to take part in a variety of activities and sports until they have developed confidence and skills rather than specializing in one sport or participating in competitive sports early in life
  • Ensure that children get sufficient sleep so they can be refreshed and alert the next day: 11 to 14 hours for toddlers, 10 to 13 hours for preschoolers and 9 to 11 hours for school age children (Source: The Sleep Foundation)
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Related Resources

External Links

physical literacy,children,movement skills,active,healthy The Regional Municipality of York en-US A young girl kicking a soccer ball while her mother watches Physical Literacy Children develop physical literacy by learning a wide range of movement skills like jumping, catching, running and throwing. Learning these skills will make them more likely to be active and healthy throughout their entire lives.

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