Over the last year my understanding of physical literacy has grown. My perspective, broad and textbook at first, has morphed and sharpened to become something that has very little in common with my view just one year ago. What caused this change? Most of it has come from teaching at risk youth.
PISE has always taken a games and play approach to teaching physical literacy skills; instead of doing drills, or repetition activities we choose to teach through play. If you pop your head in on one of our programs you will likely see kids laughing, playing and running around (all while making an incredible amount of noise). What the kids often don’t realize is that behind the play is a very specific, thought out plan that consciously teaches fundamental movement and sport skills.
Armed with my carefully laid out lesson plans and all the information that I could find on physical literacy I felt prepared to teach. I thought it was my role to go and teach kids how to run, jump, throw, catch, and kick. The first week of September I went to my new class in a school where the student body is deemed 100% at risk youth. These children come from backgrounds of poverty, neglect, abuse, and physical and emotional trauma. Many of them also have no opportunity to participate in any extracurricular activities. I had a similar group at another school and quickly realized that the traditional approach to teaching physical literacy was not going to fly with these kids.
My view had to expand from physical literacy as fundamental movement skills and fundamental sport skills to include social literacy; the social and emotional skills kids need to participate in physical activity. These social literacy skills include emotion management, teamwork, sportsmanship, listening, turn taking, respect, and following directions (among many others).
The next couple of months were spent establishing a routine, creating consistent rules and consequences, and reinforcing positive behaviour. I felt like a coach about 20% of the time and a counselor about 80%. There were days where the behaviours were so bad I left the lesson exhausted and defeated. The littlest of improvements were clung to by staff as evidence that what we were doing was working.
It felt really hard for a long time, and then one day it just felt less hard. Kids were gaining the skills they needed to play together. There came days where things went well. Kids listened, played, had fun, cooperated, and made it though the lesson without any major problems; those moments of happiness that only the months and months of hard work and relationship building could produce.
Trying to teach physical literacy to at risk youth is going to be hard…hard…hard…and when you think you can’t take another day you get one of those moments that make all the other days worth it. In the end I think I learned just as much from them as they learned from me.
My view of teaching physical literacy is now a picture that includes social literacy, relationship building, play, patience, happiness, skills, and confidence. It should be something that all children have easy access to.
It is more than its definition, almost too complicated to put into words. But really, the very best things always are.
Guest post by Kelly Graham
Kelly is a physical literacy programmer for the Pacific Institute for Sport Excellence (PISE).