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Exploring Physical Literacy in Physical Education: Essential Insights for PE Teachers

Physical literacy is a term that has gained significant traction in recent years, particularly in the realm of physical education. Its rise to prominence isn't without reason; it represents a critical component of overall human development and wellbeing, analogous to other forms of literacy such as reading or writing. Physical literacy forms the foundational building blocks that lead individuals towards active and healthy lifestyles, encompassing not only movement skills but also a positive attitude and understanding towards physical activity. Here we delve into a comprehensive understanding of physical literacy and its critical importance in physical education.

The Importance of Physical Literacy in Physical Education: A Deep Dive


What is Physical Literacy?

Physical literacy is a term coined to define a person's ability to move with competence and confidence in a variety of physical activities in multiple environments that develop physical fitness and overall well-being. The definition of physical literacy by the International Physical Literacy Association emphasizes that it involves not just the physical competence but also the motivation, confidence, and understanding to maintain physical activity throughout life.

What is Physical Literacy?

The basic foundation of physical literacy suggests that just as learning the alphabet is essential for learning to read, the development of essential movement and sport skills is fundamental for performance in physical activities, games, dance. It serves as a catalyst for an active lifestyle at school, at home, and in the community. In essence, developing physical literacy underpins a lifetime of meaningful physical activity.


Five Core Defining Components of Physical Literacy

Five Core Defining Components of Physical Literacy

1. Confidence and Competence

Physical literacy development is centered around building confidence and competence. This refers to the individual's motivation and physical competence to participate in physical activity, combined with a comprehension of why it's essential.


2. Variety of Movement Skills

A physically literate individual should possess a variety of fundamental movement skills and fundamental sport skills. This includes basic human movements such as running, kicking, jumping, and throwing, as well as more complex skills that are essential for sports and games.


3. Healthy Active Choices

Understanding the benefits of physical activity and making healthy active choices is another integral aspect of physical literacy. This includes recognizing opportunities for physical activity and choosing to engage in activities that promote health and wellbeing.


4. Wide Range of Physical Activities

Being able to participate in a wide range of physical activities, in multiple environments, is another defining component to develop physical literacy. This includes activities that develop physical fitness, such as swimming, cycling, and dancing, as well as activities that promote balance and flexibility.


5. At School, Home, and in the Community

Physical literacy should permeate every aspect of life, including school, home, and community environments. Schools play a critical role in promoting physical activity and fostering physical literacy development, but this learning and development should extend beyond the school environment.


What are the Benefits of Physical Literacy?

There are several benefits for an individual as they become more physically literate. Physical literacy...

What are the Benefits of Physical Literacy?

Develops Competency in A Variety of Skills

Developing physical literacy helps individuals acquire a wide range of physical skills and improves their competency in performing these skills.

Improves Overall Health

Regular engagement in physical activity, which is promoted by physical literacy, has numerous health benefits, including improved cardiovascular health, bone health, and mental health.

Increases Personal Fitness

Physical literacy encourages individuals to participate in physical activity regularly, thereby increasing personal fitness levels and contributing to overall physical health.

Promotes Purposeful Physical Activity

Physical literacy helps individuals understand the value of physical activity, encouraging them to participate in purposeful and meaningful physical activities.

Boosts Academic Learning

Physical activity is linked to better academic performance. Regular physical activity can improve concentration, memory, and cognitive function, all of which boost academic learning.

Builds Self-Confidence

Physical literacy can build self-confidence, as individuals gain competence in movement skills and gain a sense of achievement from participating in physical activities.

Supports a Healthy Lifestyle

By promoting physical activity, physical literacy supports the adoption of a healthy lifestyle, reducing the risk of numerous health conditions such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.


Does Physical Literacy Align with National PE Standards?

SHAPE America – The Society of Health and Physical Educators – has outlined national standards for physical education, which align with the core defining components of physical literacy. Below you will first view the SHAPE America standard (located here) and a child friendly version of the standard depicted from the following physically literate students... visual.

Does Physical Literacy Align with National PE Standards?

Standard 1: The physically literate individual demonstrates competency in a variety of motor skills and movement patterns. Students develop fundamental movement skills that enable them to participate confidently in a variety of games and sports.

Child Friendly Version: Physically literate students can move their bodies in many ways and have skills to play games.


Standard 2: The physically literate individual applies knowledge of concepts, principles, strategies and tactics related to movement and performance. Understanding the principles and strategies of games enhances their competence and confidence in participation.

Child Friendly Version: Physically literate individuals know how to implement strategy during games.


Standard 3: The physically literate individual demonstrates the knowledge and skills to achieve and maintain a health-enhancing level of physical activity and fitness. Physical literacy supports the understanding of how to develop and maintain personal fitness.

Child Friendly Version: Physically literate individuals understand how to get and stay fit.


Standard 4: The physically literate individual exhibits responsible personal and social behavior that respects self and others. This emphasizes the importance of respectful, safe, and fair behavior during physical activities.

Child Friendly Version: Physically literate individuals respect others, move safely, and play fair.


Standard 5: The physically literate individual recognizes the value of physical activity for health, enjoyment, challenge, self-expression and/or social interaction. It highlights the importance of appreciating the value of physical activity and its impact on health and well-being.

Child Friendly Version: Physically literate individuals value movement, personal fitness, and health.



SHAPE America. (2013). National Standards for K-12 Physical Education. Reston, VA: Author.


Fundamental Movement Skills for Physical Literacy

Mastering fundamental movement skills is a key aspect of physical literacy. These include:

Fundamental Movement Skills for Physical Literacy

  1. Kicking: The act of striking something forcefully and deliberately with one's foot or feet.

  2. Trapping: In a sports context, trapping refers to stopping and controlling the ball using parts of the body (e.g., feet in soccer, hands in basketball).

  3. Striking: Refers to hitting or impacting with force. In sports, this could refer to striking a ball with a bat, racket, or other sports equipment.

  4. Catching: The act of intercepting and holding onto a thrown, kicked, or hit object, usually with one's hands.

  5. Throwing: The act of propelling something (usually a ball or similar object) through the air using arm strength.

  6. Cycling: The activity of riding a bicycle, involving pedaling to move forwards.

  7. Skating/Skiing: Skating involves moving on a surface (usually ice or a hard smooth ground) using roller skates or ice skates. Skiing involves moving over snow using skis.

  8. Swimming: The action of propelling oneself in water by using the arms and legs to make movements that push against the water.

  9. Jumping: The act of pushing oneself into the air, off the ground, using the strength in one's legs.

  10. Skipping: A locomotor movement involving a hopping or bounding movement where one foot is lifted off the ground while the other propels the body forward.

  11. Running: A fast pace of moving where the person propels themselves forward by pushing off the ground with their feet.

  12. Walking: The act of moving at a slow or moderate pace by lifting and setting down each foot in turn.


Why is Physical Literacy Important for Physical Education?

Physical literacy is crucial for physical education because it forms the basis for lifelong engagement in physical activity. It aids in the development of motor skills, instills a sense of confidence, and promotes an understanding of the benefits of physical activity, all of which are essential for physical education. Physical educators have a crucial role to play in the physical literacy development of students by providing them with diverse, inclusive, and engaging experiences in sport and physical activity.

Physical Literacy Movement Environments

Moreover, physical literacy aligns closely with the objectives of national and international physical education standards, ensuring that education systems holistically address students' physical development. Through physical literacy, learners gain an appreciation for physical activity and its role in enhancing their quality of life. It promotes the development of a positive mindset towards health, wellness, and fitness, encouraging students to participate willingly in various physical activities. This active engagement fosters essential values such as discipline, teamwork, and sportsmanship, further enhancing their personal and social development.

Thus, physical literacy extends beyond the physical realm, influencing cognitive and emotional growth, and contributing significantly to students' overall educational experience. In this light, physical literacy is not only important but is indeed indispensable for comprehensive, effective, and impactful physical education.


Final Thoughts

Physical literacy is not a destination but a journey that begins early in life. Its integration into physical education programs promotes a lifelong love of physical activity and contributes to overall well-being. The ultimate goal is to instill in students the confidence, competence, and knowledge necessary to enjoy a lifetime of healthful physical activity.

In conclusion, as we invest time and resources into teaching children to read and write, we must also prioritize their physical literacy development. The health benefits, both immediate and long-term, are too significant to ignore. For individuals to make the most of the physical activities available to them, they must first be physically literate. This is the critical role of physical education in our schools and communities.


Need a Physical Literacy Visual for both English and Spanish Learners?

Do you need a practical way to advocate for physical education and share the key benefits of physical literacy? If so, Cap'n Pete's Power PE has you covered!

By filling out the form below, you can download a FREE physical literacy visual that effectively communicates the 7 key benefits of becoming physically literate to students, parents, and administrators. The PE Poster: Benefits of Physical Literacy serves as a kid-friendly, easy-to-comprehend printable visual that you can enlarge to poster size that will immediately enhance your learning area! The great thing is this FREE download comes in both English and Spanish versions in 5 color schemes.


If you are searching for a way to help students understand what physical literacy really is and how it impacts them in their learning at school and at home, Cap'n Pete has a solution! The Physical Literacy Poster Bundle includes 6 different posters that incorporate the concept of Physical Literacy for teaching physical education. The posters include 1. What is Physical Literacy, 2. Benefits of Physical Literacy, 3. Movement Environments, 4. Fundamental Movement Skills for Physical Literacy, 5. Language Arts Literacy/Physical Literacy Analogy and 6. Physically Literate Students...Aligned to the SHAPE STANDARDS. The visuals are depicted in a clear and easy-to-understand format.

You can download them from either of the following platforms: Cap'n Pete's Power PE Website or Teachers Pay Teachers- Cap'n Pete's TPT Store

Each physical literacy poster includes easy to comprehend, “kid friendly” pertinent information related to Physical Literacy and include “action-based” movement images that will help your students easily relate. Each poster package also includes 4 or 5 different header/footer colors to “brighten up” and match your school gym.




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