The Sport Information Resource Centre
The Sport Information Resource Centre

With students settled into new classes with new teachers, many families find themselves considering how to best support student success across the school day. Physical literacy is becoming an integral facet of Physical and Health Education curricula across the country, and parents are likely to see this term more often on report cards, course outlines, newsletters, and assignment criteria.

As defined by the International Physical Literacy Association, physical literacy is “the motivation, confidence, physical competence, knowledge and understanding to value and take responsibility for engagement in physical activities for life.” Understanding how to support students’ physical literacy development and communicate about the concept with educators is likely not familiar to all parents. To assist, the elements of physical literacy are broken down below. By increasing awareness about the concept, parents and teachers (and even coaches!) will be “speaking the same language” when collaborating to support student success.

Motivation and Confidence – Students learn in different ways and at different speeds, whether it be literacy development, numeracy development, scientific learning, or physical literacy development. When students feel accepted, welcomed, and connected in a physical and health education classroom, their motivation and confidence are more likely to increase. Sharing information about students likes, dislikes, successes and areas of growth, can help parents and teachers adjust learning activities for greater success, and connect with students to build confidence and motivate participation.

Physical Competence – Fundamental movement skills are important building blocks of physical competence. These skills can be broken down into locomotor skills (running, skipping, jumping), non-locomotor skills (balancing, lifting), and manipulative skills (throwing, catching, kicking, dribbling). Students may be competent in some areas, but struggle in others. Insight and ideas from teachers can help parents support the student in practicing a wide range of skills and support the development of movement skills that are being learned more slowly than others. Working on fundamental movement skills does not always have to occur in structured and highly organized sport or activities, it can be built into play and daily activities.

Knowledge – Knowing the benefits of physical activity is crucial to life-long physical literacy. Parents and teachers can work together to communicate, demonstrate and encourage students to know that a variety of physical movements or activities are helpful for holistic health. This includes, but is not limited to, mental health, emotional health, and community health. At the same time, developing student knowledge of the advantages and limitations of specific activities to overall health, as well as an appreciation for appropriate safety features associated with specific activities, is a process that parents and teachers can facilitate across a number of grade levels.

Understanding – Developing an understanding of what it means to be physically active for a lifetime is complementary to developing students’ understanding that learning is a life-long process. To support this, parents can role model physical literacy. Helping students develop an understanding of the importance of acceptance, fairness, and equity are crucial aspects of life-long and respectful physical activity. The more positive adult examples and influences students have in these areas, the better.

When parents and teachers communicate and collaborate during in the school year about a student’s physical literacy, they demonstrate to the student that adults care about their understanding, knowledge, and competencies. This focus on building positive relationships sets the stage for empowerment, which can lead to greater motivation and confidence, not just in Physical and Health Education, but in school and learning as a whole.

Recommended Resources

Sport for Life Society

Developing Physical Literacy: A New Normal for all Canadians

PHE Canada


About the Author

With an educational background in Human Kinetics and Curriculum and Instruction, Ian Robertson has taught in middle schools for over twelve years as an enrolling teacher, student services teacher, Physical and Health Education specialist, and athletic director. He is a husband and father that believes strongly in the power of restorative communities and is currently a district level Mentor Support Teacher in the Coquitlam School District.