Children losing physical literacy

Children losing physical literacy

Andrew Fewster, ECU Reporter

Half of the kids in year six in Australian schools haven’t mastered fundamental movement skills, such as throwing, kicking or leaping.

According to a report released by the Australian Sporting Commission (ASC), children are increasingly struggling with basic physical tasks.

The report demonstrates that four out of five children do not meet the recommended one hour of physical activity per day, and many are exceeding sedentary behaviour recommendations due to spending too much time on screens.

“Evidence shows Australians are living more sedentary lifestyles and increasingly children are struggling to perform basic fundamental movement skills, such as running, throwing, kicking, catching or jumping,” said ASC Acting General Manager of Participation Geoff Howes.

“We are starting to see a generation of children who lack the confidence, ability and motivation to move and to be physically active.

“Disturbingly, this is a contributing factor to the increasing rates of obesity amongst children.”

Dr Lisa Barnett, co-author of the ASC report, said there’s evidence that children aren’t active enough, but that doesn’t necessarily reflect physical literacy levels are decreasing.

“Physical literacy encompasses such a broad range of aspects that are usually all measured in different ways at different times so it is hard to get one picture of where Australian children are at.”

ECU education lecturer Janeen Thomsett describes it as a “growing problem”, and said it’s important to teach these skills.

“Fundamental Movement Skills are the foundation movements children need to be able to confidently participate in games and sports and recreational activities.

“These are best learned in early childhood and involve skills such as running, jumping, skipping, striking, kicking, etc.

“Without these skills, many children are reluctant to join in playground games and social activities,” said Ms Thomsett.

The ASC defines physical literacy as “lifelong holistic learning” that is “applied in movement and physical activity contexts.”

A report released by the University of Canberra, on physical literacy, claims that people who develop good physical literacy skills early in life grow to lead more active lifestyles.

ASC CEO Kate Palmer said a national standard for physical literacy will be developed for educators and parents, “to identify and support development of the range of skills that enable active, healthy lifestyles.”

Ms Palmer also said that setting a national standard will, “improve participation outcomes, improve quality of life for future generations, and ease the health burden at a national level,” by prompting collaboration between the education and health sectors.

Multiple factors are causing a decrease in physical literacy and increasingly sedentary lifestyles among Australian children.

Cultural shifts around allowing children to play unsupervised and technological advances mean most children now have a handheld digital device, which is noted as a key reason for the underdevelopment of physical skills.

“Children are not able to go outside and “play” unsupervised (stranger danger, small backyard, park too far away…etc) when they get home from school,” said Ms Thomsett.

Dr Barnett added: “Many primary schools don’t have a trained physical education teacher to teach children the skills they need and organised sport outside of school can be expensive and out of reach for a lot of parents.”

Both Dr Barnett and Ms Thomsett agree that physical literacy has a  positive impact on children, which lasts with them to adulthood.

Dr Barnett said: “As humans we are born to move and we learn through movement. Physical activity is really important for current and future health – both psychological and physical health, for example to prevent heart disease and to build bone strength.

“Mastery of motor skills has also been linked to higher physical activity levels, better fitness, healthier weight status and some learning and cognitive benefits.”

Ms Thomsett agreed, saying: “The physical literacy skills we want children to acquire will mean they develop positive attitudes towards physical activity, make ‘healthy choices’ and become confident, active adults.”

Ms Thomsett said the school system is one way to improve physical literacy levels. She described them as an “ideal environment”, with the equipment and resources to make a change.

“Teachers now need to integrate movement into other learning areas to ensure children get sufficient movement during the school day and not only develop the skills required for confident participation in games and sports, they should also develop an attitude of enjoyment and love of play,”  she said.

But it’s not just school systems that need to rethink their strategy.

Dr Barnett said children should be encouraged in a range of environments to remain active.

“We need to work with the whole child so that movement is possible and desirable in every possible setting. This means education, sport, families and communities all need to work together,” she said.

“And it is not just about children – we all need to move as much as we are able within our own capacities.”