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What is Physical Literacy in Schools?

Across Canada, provincial ministries of education have started to incorporate physical literacy language into their curriculum guidelines as recognition of physical literacy grows. The challenge for many teachers is getting up to speed on what physical literacy really means, and then finding teaching resources for helping children to develop it. This page is designed to help teachers understand and incorporate physical literacy into the classroom!

Physical Literacy, as defined by Margaret Whitehead, is:

  •  The ability and motivation to learn, practice and participate in a range of physical activities for the health and wellness benefits
  • All human beings have the ability to participate in physical activities however, its specific expression will be particular to the culture in which we live and the movement capacities with which we are endowed.
  • An individual who is physically literate moves with poise, economy, and confidence in a wide variety of physically challenging situations.
  • The individual is able to ‘read’ all aspects of the physical environment and anticipate movements needed and respond appropriately, with intelligence and imagination.
  • A physically literate individual has a well-established sense of self as embodied in the world which promotes positive self-esteem and self-confidence
  • Sensitivity to and awareness of our physical abilities leads to fluent self-expression through non-verbal communication and leads to perceptive and empathetic interaction with others
  • In addition, the individual has the ability to identify and articulate the effectiveness of his/her own movement performance, and has an understanding of the principles of embodied health, with respect to basic aspects such as exercise, sleep, and nutrition.

Resources on Physical Literacy for Teachers


What does physical literacy look like in the classroom?

The whole child approach is becoming more and more popular in schools. To teach the whole child means to respect the four domains of well-being in the school environment. The four domains are: cognitive, emotional, social and physical. They are interconnected. That’s a great thing because it means every teacher is now just as responsible as the physical education teacher for improving the students’ health and wellness!

If schools focus on developing the students’ physical literacy, they are subsequently striving to support their affective, physical, cognitive, and behavioural well-being.

-Active for Life

Resources on Games to Play for Teachers


Must-Have Equipment

  • Balls (all shapes, sizes, textures)
  • Pool Noodles (cut into pieces or kept long)
  • Hula Hoops
  • Scarves
  • Cones
  • Bubbles
  • Skipping Rope
  • Chalk
  • Painter Tape
  • Beanbags

FUNdamental Movement Skills

The development of fundamental movement skills is the basic building block for the overall development of physical literacy. Much like learning the alphabet and phonics are the fundamental skills needed to eventually read Shakespeare, or identifying numbers and learning to add and subtract are the fundamental skills needed to eventually balance a cheque-book, the development of fundamental motor skills is critical if children are to apply these skills within and/or across a number of sporting activities.

Important FUNdamental Movement Skills:

  • Run
  • Hop
  • Skip
  • Jump
  • Throw
  • Kick
  • Balance
  • Catch
  • Strike
  • Coordination
  • Agility

Resources to further your learning  on FUNdamental Movement Skills


The Gender Divide

If a girl hasn’t participated in sports by the age of 10, there is only a 10% chance that she will be physically active as an adult. Only 16% of adult women report sport participation.

The difference in physical activity behaviours between boys and girls starts as young as 6 years old. This difference only increases as children grow older.

Physical literacy is a theory we can use in practical experiences to ensure our girls and women stay active and healthy for life.

Resources on the gender divide in sport and physical activity: