Physical Literacy Explained

What is physical literacy?

People who are physically literate have the competence, confidence and motivation to enjoy a variety of sports and physical activities. As a result, they are more likely to stay active.

But what is physical literacy exactly?

Like reading and arithmetic, which develop a literary or numerical vocabulary, physical literacy develops a “movement vocabulary” of fundamental movement skills and fundamental sport skills.

These skills are the basis for moving with competence and confidence in every kind of activity environment:

  • on the ground, both indoor and outdoor
  • in and on water
  • on snow and ice
  • in the air                                                        

Our children need to learn physical literacy in a wide range of settings and from many different people. However, the responsibility for developing a physically literate child ultimately rests with parents and guardians. 

Physical Literacy Assessment Tools in Canada

Sport for Life physical literacy assessments and Long-Term Athlete Development model terminology are consistent with the Passport for Life assessment. It is important that various sectors involved in enhancing the lifestyles of our children and youth be aligned. 

However, the PLAY Tools' procifient level is not consistent with Passport for Life’s accomplished level. For the PLAY tool, the proficient level is anchored at the top of the scale by a “perfect” rendition or expert execution of the task being assessed. Whereas, Passport for Life’s accomplished level depicts an execution of the task that simply exceeds the age and developmentally expected level (i.e. better than acquired). This type of rubric is consistent with delivery of educational curricular objectives—“meeting versus exceeding educational expectations.” In the sport context, there is a need to be able to differentiate between adequate or competent (entry level) and proficient (expert).

Sport for Life: PLAY Tools

The Canadian Sport for Life movement uses the following rubric in their Physical Literacy Assessment of Youth (PLAY) toolkit that includes objective assessment of children in movement skills and tasks.

Firstly, the skills fall into one of two categories: Developing or Acquired. Within the Developing category, the participant will be classified as either Initial or Emerging, while under the Acquired category, the participant will be classified as either Competent or Proficient.

PHE Canada: Passport for Life. The rubric uses a nested assessment matrix, where the assessor first determines if the participant is in the developing or acquired category—that is, the participant does or does not have the skill essentials. Then, following that determination the assessor categorizes into sub-classes within each major category: initial or emerging for the developing category; competent or proficient for the acquired category. The PLAY tool originally used a visual analogue scale embedded into the anchoring terminology (described above) permitting rapid assessment over a 100 point range. Recently, the PLAY tool was simplified to also use a four-point marking approach. 

PHE Canada has created a new program to aid physical and health education teachers foster in children an active, healthy lifestyle that will last a lifetime. Passport for Life focuses on the development of physical literacy of children—a foundation of physical and health curricula across this country. Passport for Life employs assessments of active participation, life skills, movement and fitness skills. Passport for Life is currently designed for children from grades 3 to 9, with future expansions planned for K to grade 2, and grades 10 to 12. Passport for Life assessments are used for child-centred goal setting over the scholastic year, facilitated by teachers and fostered by parents. 

Passport for Life uses a four-point scoring rubric (see below) for assessment of movement and fitness elements. Four-point scoring rubrics are commonplace in education settings. The curricular-based goal is to have all children attain the Acquired level.

Emerging            Developing            Acquired            Accomplished