The 5 C’s of a Physical Literate Child

Let’s start off the new year by taking a new look at our instructional practices. Ask yourself this question, “What currently exists in my PE learning environment that helps develop a physically literate person?” Personally, I have come to conclude that there are 5 essential dispositions that need to be present for a child to take those initial steps towards physical literacy, which I refer to as the 5 C’s of Physical Literacy (Capable Person, Confident Person, Cared For Person, Challenged Person, and Critical Thinking Person).

In my early years of teaching, I was often fixated on the development of skills (e.g., locomotor skills, manipulative skills, dance/rhythms, sports skills), which I will refer to as the “hard skills” of the curriculum. Certainly, these skills, if practiced often enough, helped lead to more capable and competent students. I eventually realized that exposing students to various skills and providing opportunities to practice was not sufficient for their growth towards learning targets in physical education class. There was something missing.

I began to think more deeply about Habits of Mind and the dispositions that lead to a person being physically literate. I wondered what personal attributes or intrapersonal behaviors needed to be present for my students to willing participate and practice these skills, as this I saw to be the first step to developing capable and competent movers. These dispositions

I’m hoping that everyone has come to know and understand, as well as implement, the SHAPE America National Physical Education Standards. I have used this document as well as the Grade Level Outcomes for K-12 Physical Education to develop my own curriculum, as well as the curriculum for the Parkway School District (St. Louis County, MO). These standards and outcomes are very effective for developing students who feel capable or competent in their abilities to perform a wide variety of physical activities in a multitude of environments. This is a definition of physical literacy that has been shared by SHAPE America, as well as other PE professionals.

While I will not dispute any of the thinking that went into the development of these standards for physical literacy, I would challenge you to consider all of the skills and dispositions (or sometimes referred to as Habits of Mind) that lead to a young person’s motivation and will to pursue a healthy, active lifestyle. Often we are fixated on the development of skills (Standard 1), movement concepts (Standard 2), and physical fitness (Standard 3) in physical education class. And of course, we often expect our students to act respectfully and responsibly (Standard 4). Many times, however, we neglect to thoroughly “unpack” the standards to unveil the “soft skills” and dispositions necessary to growth in these areas.

In my most recent years teaching elementary physical education I now spend as much time thinking about student motivation and self-efficacy, as I do in planning the sequence of learning activities. I routinely have students self-reflect on their growth towards character traits, set goals and personal plan for skill and fitness development, seek responses from them regarding their confidence in performing physical skills, and provide opportunities for students to be creative problem solvers. I have seen a positive difference in the PE learning environment, especially with students who have tended to under-perform or under-participate.

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