What are fundamental movement skills?

Physical literacy is when kids have developed the skills, confidence, and love of movement to be physically active for life. In discussions of physical literacy, you’ll often hear talk of “fundamental movement skills.” But what exactly are they? And what are the fundamental movement skills that children need to develop to become physically literate?    

Fundamental movement skills (FMS) are the basic movements traditionally associated with human physical activity. The most common FMS include skills such as running, jumping, throwing, catching, skipping, and hopping. 

Some sources will also suggest skills such as kicking, swimming, and striking with racquets, bats, and hockey sticks—or that there is a precise number of FMS—but every list tends to be a bit subjective as to what is “fundamental” to human movement. 

Swimming, for instance, is a highly desirable movement skill, but is it fundamental to all human experience? It might be if you’re born in a fishing village on an island in the South Pacific, but it wouldn’t be if you’re born in a desert culture without access to large water bodies. 


Related read: What is physical literacy?


Considerations for children with disabilities

FMS may be different for children with physical and intellectual disabilities. Depending on the nature of their disability, children may not be able to perform some skills or they may need to have them adapted.

There are some excellent programs in Canada that provide adapted play and physical activity for children with disabilities, such as Let’s Play, Special Olympics Canada, Canucks Autism Network, and Run Jump Throw Wheel. These programs help children with disabilities to make important gains in physical literacy so they can live more active lives.

More complex movement skills develop from FMS

Over time, as children develop proficiency in basic FMS, they start to “sequence” their skills into more sophisticated movement patterns, including fundamental sport skills. 

Depending on their interests, these patterns might emerge in the form of dance, martial arts, skateboarding, aerial diving, or any one of a thousand different sports and physical activities. However, the complex movement patterns that form the basis of these activities still rely on the prior development of basic FMS. 


Related read: 10 ways raising a physically literate child is like raising a reader


Physical literacy is more than just developing movement skills

FMS represent only one component of physical literacy, generally categorized under the heading “physical competence.”

Beyond physical competence, individuals who are physically literate will also develop confidence in movement, motivation to stay active, and knowledge and understanding of the importance of physical activity.

Fundamental movement skills at different ages and stages 

What are some of the FMS that parents should expect to see in their children at different ages and stages of development?

Active for Life has created a series of physical literacy checklists to help parents. These lists are not written in stone, but they provide a basic idea of what parents should expect:   

How to help your child develop fundamental movement skills     

Children develop FMS through active play. Parents can greatly assist their children’s development by being active role models and by engaging in active play with them from a young age.

As children get older, it’s wise to enroll them in organized sports and physical activities that match their personal interests. Active for Life has prepared a series of resources with ideas and suggestions at each age and stage:  

Encourage variety and exploration

It’s important to encourage children to try different sports and physical activities as they grow up. For instance, artistic and expressive physical activities such as dance are every bit as “athletic” and valuable to children’s development as any sport. 

In fact there are hundreds, if not thousands, of possibilities for physical activity as children grow, and parents may be surprised by the activities that interest their kids. 

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