Physical literacy is an important part of our health as we get older. Learned during the early years of childhood, it is likely to boost the quality of life in later years. Our interest in physical literacy will help children develop an effective lifelong learning approach.

Research confirms that physical activity impacts mental health in older adults. It also links early cognitive development to the prevention of cognitive decline. The early years, between 0 and 5 years old, are the most rapid and critical periods for a developing brain.

Early learning in physical literacy:

  • Develops a child’s confidence and the capability to be active
  • Gives children the knowledge, means and motivation to be active through life
  • Helps to improve a child’s quality of life

physical literacy kids

Physical literacy is more than physical activity

In September, Petit ELJ invited Dick Telford from University of Canberra, HRI – Research Institute for Sport & Exercise to discuss physical literacy with our educators and families in Victoria. We also heard from two other guest speakers Rowan Telford and Dr Lisa Olive at our Parent Series Talk.

Sports Australia defines physical literacy as, “the skills, knowledge and behaviours that give us the confidence and motivation to move throughout our lives.” It identifies four domains that physical literacy improves:

  • Physical skills and fitness, as in learning to control muscles, running and jumping
  • Psychological skills such as building resilience or expressing emotions
  • Social skills like empathy, inclusiveness and negotiation
  • Cognitive skill development which includes planning and preparation

Science connects all four areas to developing a healthy brain. And each one relies on the other to grow. You need psychological, social and cognitive skills to enjoy physical activity, which improves memory retention, problem-solving and social awareness.

When should physical literacy begin?

Physical literacy starts the minute a child is born. Even before the child begins to move, they’re taking cues from their parents, educators, other adults and children. A child starts to move on their own as their primitive reflexes are hard-wired.

When a baby moves so does their brain. Every wiggle creates a new synapsis. Our minds make these connections until we’re between 4 – 6 years of age. Then they shed about 10,000 connections per minute for the rest of our lives.

Experience drives the pruning of synapses. The mind removes unused and an overabundance of connections. Pathways stimulated by the environment strengthen, while the mind eliminates unused ones.

Early childhood is a crucial period in the development of a healthy brain. Experiences influence the foundation of a child’s sensory and perceptual pathways. These systems are vital to the development of language, social behaviours and emotions.

As educators, we can encourage children to move by incorporating pedagogical practices into our learning curriculum. By encouraging positive physical literacy experiences, we’re contributing to a child’s wellbeing.

physical activity literacy

How to develop physical literacy in a child

Children learn by doing. Play based activities create experiences where they use all five senses bridge connections in the brain. The more experiences, the more connections.

If an experience is meaningful, then the child will want to do it again. Repeated experiences grow stronger and more permanent synapses. This is how confidence and competence grows. It’s an essential part of physical literacy.

To develop motivation and confidence that lasts a lifetime, children in early childhood need experiences with many kinds of activities. Active play can include planned and unplanned activities. These activities should be:

  • Running
  • Jumping
  • Skipping
  • Swimming
  • Catching a ball
  • Walking the dog
  • With other children
  • Playing with blocks
  • Dressing up
  • Dancing
  • Singing
  • Running under a hose
  • Creative
  • Imaginative
  • Positive and fun

Children should want to do these activities again and again. By repeating them, your child grows competent and confident about moving.

As educators we can support our children by providing opportunities to create these experiences. By encouraging physical literacy in their early years, we help children develop lifelong habits.

petit literacy children

How can you support a child’s learning through experience?

One of the ways that young children discover enjoyment is through attention. They feel secure and wanted when they have our undivided interest.

When a child experiences a new activity, and they fail or feel frustrated, as educators we need to offer praise for the effort rather than the outcome. Recognising and reinforcing effort teaches a child that it’s okay to fail and continue.

Active play for early learning children, involves both structured and unstructured activities. Structured activities provide stimulating environments in which a child can explore and develop on their own. This helps to develop self-motivation.

Often young children don’t like too many rules. Instead, focus on teaching new skills to active kids we can instruct on the safety of an activity. The focus of the experience then is on its enjoyment. Technical skills develop as they get older.

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Why is it important to encourage active kids?

Our lifestyle during our early years, in particular, how we integrated physical literacy to sustain active habits, most likely impacts the quality of life in our older years.

Physical activity is known to have a huge impact on controlling blood sugars. Insulin resistance and Type 2 Diabetes is a major concern in our aging population. If you lose control of your blood sugars and fats, your quality of life is threatened.

Another reason for the importance of physical literacy is rising childhood obesity. Studies show that lack of physical activity and not nutrition seems to be the primary driver. At Petit ELJ, we provide healthy and wholesome foods for developing minds.

Increasing physical activity is vital for maintaining our health. We know physical inactivity is harmful to our quality of life. Physical literacy then becomes important for improving the quality of life for a lifetime.

We can encourage children’s physical literacy by looking after our own. It’s never too late to create a new habit. By being role models, our children see that we understand and participate in physical literacy. They pick up on that and replicate what we do.

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Join Petit Early Learning Journey and make a positive difference in a child’s life

Petit ELJ offers educators the opportunity to grow their professional development through early learning seminars and parent talks. We will continue to bring through thought leaders to enhance and improve our holistic programs. Click here to join our team today!