Child care centre starts kids on physical literacy journey

You’re dropping off your child at the child care centre in the morning. You imagine what the centre leaders will be teaching them this day. Perhaps some art activities, water play, story time, maybe some music.

How about physical literacy?

At the Banff Child Care Centre (BCCC), a new pilot program is giving children aged one through five an active start in early motor skill development and the ABCs of physical literacy. Using a curriculum developed by the Centre for Child Well-Being at Mount Royal University in Calgary, the early childhood educators at BCCC are engaging kids in a variety of activities in hopping, crawling, jumping, throwing, and more.

Started in March 2015, the BCCC program is the product of some innovative thinking in early childhood education. It began when BCCC applied for a funding grant in the fall of 2014. They submitted plans to build a small climbing wall and purchase some play equipment. They also requested funding to create a basic physical literacy program with staff training and curriculum.

The grant was approved, and the program quickly began to take shape.

“In early childhood education, we try to look at all of the learning domains that the children can become involved in,” explains centre president Karen Foster-Jorgensen. “Physical literacy is one of those domains.”

Active for Life played a role in getting the pilot project started. In the autumn of 2014, Foster-Jorgensen had discussed the idea of creating a physical literacy program with Liz Smeaton of Active for Life, and Liz introduced her to Dr. Dawne Clark at Mount Royal University. Clark in turn connected her with two MRU students in the Centre for Child Well-Being who were specifically researching physical literacy for early childhood education, Katie Jewitt and Paxton Bruce.

Jewitt and Bruce subsequently delivered a physical literacy workshop to the BCCC teachers in Banff in March 2015.

“Katie and Paxton presented some of their research, and then they led our teachers through a number of different physical literacy activities so they would know how to lead our children in the same activities,” recounts Foster-Jorgensen.

That same spring, Active for Life connected BCCC with Shannon Fox, a local physical literacy specialist.

“We were able to have her out three times to work with our classes of children, and that also provided modelling for our teachers,” says Foster-Jorgensen.

Prior to contacting Mount Royal University, Foster-Jorgensen had printed physical literacy lesson plans from the Active for Life website for the staff at BCCC.  Following the workshop, BCCC started working with Jewitt and Bruce to refine the first and second drafts of a new ECE physical literacy manual that they were developing at MRU. BCCC staff provided important feedback to Jewitt on what worked and what could be improved.

“In their research, they were trying to determine which types of activities would be most effective to help children in ECE programs to develop in the different areas that they had identified — such as agility, balance, and coordination,” explains Foster-Jorgensen.

“There were a lot of great activities that used beanbags to practice balance, throwing, and catching. With our smallest children, we did simple things with jumping — jumping to music, jumping on one foot, jumping on the other foot. Simple things, but the kids loved it.”

The Mount Royal physical literacy resource provided the guidance that staff wanted.

“One of the greatest values of this program is that it gives educators confidence,” says Foster-Jorgensen. “They think, ‘I know I am doing the right thing, because I see it in the manual.’ If that support helps, then it is important that it happens.”

She believes that physical literacy curricula in early childhood centres can have a huge impact on child development and well-being.

“So much of confidence has to do with your ability to move,” she explains. “It seems that by the time kids get into elementary school, if they lack some of the basic skills, they feel like they will get laughed at, so they don’t participate at all. If children can come to us at age 1 and leave us at age 5 with confidence and basic movement skills, they are going to be in a whole different place than if they leave us without that type of skill.

“Our role is to promote child development, and to leave out physical literacy would be just as severe as leaving out books, music, art or pre-mathematics. We help them develop their love of music, art, and books … and everything else as well. The day will come when everyone will know that physical literacy is essential to early childhood education, and it will just become standard curriculum.”

Richard Monette, who leads the Active for Life initiative, agrees.

“Child care settings such as preschools and before-and-after-school care programs are logical venues for developing early physical literacy in children,” says Monette. “As the Banff Child Care Centre has shown, programs can get up and running with minimal investment and deliver physical literacy programming in a very cost-effective manner.”

Physical literacy is often described as a lifelong journey. In Banff, BCCC is ensuring that their children get the right start on that journey.

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