Over the past few years we have seen an increase in conversation around the concept of physical literacy. In May of 2014 The International Physical Literacy Association stated,
“Physical literacy is the motivation, confidence, physical competence, knowledge, and understanding to value and take responsibility for engagement in physical activities for life.”
This is clearly different from fitness. Daily exercise with as little activity as walking will provide fitness. As most dictionaries simply define it as
“the condition of being physically fit and healthy.”
When it comes to schooled children they all receive gym class. Every single day these children get an hour, at least, of directed physical education instruction. Early elementary will provide more games than sports but as they reach junior high the content becomes increasingly structured. To be honest I hated gym in school and I was a pretty athletic kid. I can’t even say I hated team sports because I was in softball and ringette – two sports not typically offered in school physical education programs. It was more likely the disparate skill level among my classmates which made learning a drag in the face of all those “jocks”. Or it could have simply been the 1980’s gym strip – oh how I hated those shorts. However I did learn how to move and participated in other sports successfully as a result.
To be honest when I started homeschooling this was what kept me up at night, not math – gym class. As you scan mentally over your last few years and defend that play group your kids were in once or the fact that you hike and bike every summer with them, let me explain the difference.
What should gym class teach? The basic movement skills of physical literacy, as defined by the Canadian non-profit Sport For Life, are:
1. Athletics: run, jump, throw, and wheel.
2. Gymnastics: ABCs of athleticism (agility, balance, coordination, and speed). Including dance adds to rhythmic abilities.
3. Swimming: for water safety reasons; for balance in a buoyant environment; and as the foundation for all water-based sports.
4. Skating, slip, and slide movements: on ice, snow or water, the need to develop stability is required.
Without the basic movement skills, a child will have difficulty participating in any sport. For example, to enjoy baseball, basketball, cricket, football, netball, handball, rugby, and softball, the simple skill of catching must be mastered.
Are we as homeschoolers doing a good job of gym class? When I look at the list above and consider the past year my schooled 14 year old had, which included an incredible amount of physical exercise daily, I question whether I’m doing enough.
You can likely answer your facilitator’s questions about the activities your child is in outside of academics. It perhaps includes a list of a couple of teams, or at best they are more heavily engaged in an activity such as gymnastics or soccer than your average schooled child; decidedly a benefit of homeschooling.
However when evaluating a homeschool program and developing a yearly plan for Physical Education, seldom are homeschoolers asked, “and what about gym”?
This would be an odd question as we all know mimicking gym class at home is absurd. To be fair, because my facilitator is a phys. ed. teacher by trade, I’m asked in depth. But he doesn’t press me when I say “he’s in a swim club” and leave it at that. Largely I think due to the idea that fitness is enough. I certainly am not required to provide proof of whether he can throw a ball, catch a ball and hit a ball. Nor do I have to produce a log of his daily structured physical activity.
What can we do as homeschoolers to ensure physical literacy is an integral part of our week?
Luckily there are ways to include physical literacy in a homeschool program with or without outside help.
- The simplest solution is to do it yourself. Take them skating, teach them to swim, go play catch (or shoot hoops, or one on one soccer) in the park. This is easily incorporated daily as we certainly have time! There are guides and programs online, and your local board can offer good resources.
- The second option is an organized coop. And by organized I mean with instruction and direction.This is one way to create the opportunity to engage in team sports. Organize among a group of other families (developmental age is important so stay within 2 years at most) to capitalize on skills existing in the group. This can be done for free or at little cost with personally owned equipment. Ball sports can be focused on during warmer months to utilize outdoor facilities. Winter can include swimming and skating.
- Lastly join a sports program created for homeschoolers. These are likely only once a week and are meant to add value to an existing homeschool physical education plan, especially in the way of group games, team play and learning the rules of any given organized sport. Shooting hoops is a great way to build physical literacy but is not the game of basketball. Here in Calgary there are a few general physical education classes offered at the YMCA, Cardel Rec South and Trifecta Homeschool Program.
How do you promote physical literacy in your homeschool program? Is it even on your radar? Tell us your thoughts, share your story – even if it’s a picture of you in those god awful 80s bum hugger volleyball shorts. I promise we’ll laugh only a little.