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Academic Links to Physical Literacy

This is an excerpt from Essentials of Teaching Physical Education 2nd Edition With HKPropel Access, The by Stephen A. Mitchell & Jennifer L. Walton-Fisette.

The answer to the question of why we should teach for physical literacy in schools perhaps remains simple: Because we can! Ninety percent of children in the United States are educated within the public education system (Center on Education Policy 2012). These children are in school for approximately 35 hours per week and 36 weeks per year, allowing enough time for a well-rounded education. Physical literacy should be part of that education. In response to those who advocate more classroom time in place of physical education, we can point to research that examines the effect of physical activity on brain activity (Donnelly et al. 2016) and the work of Dr. John Ratey (2008), who thoroughly summarizes the research on exercise and the brain in his popular book Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain.

Other authors in our field support the importance of including physical education within the school curriculum. Trost and van der Mars (2009) point to research that disputes the belief that time spent in physical education will take away from time spent in the classroom and therefore would have a negative effect on academic performance. Summarizing research conducted in the United States, Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, Iceland, and Hong Kong, Trost and van der Mars offered these conclusions:

  • Decreasing (or eliminating) the time allotted for physical education in favor of traditional academic subjects does not lead to improved academic performance.
  • Increasing the number of minutes students spend per week in physical education will not impede their academic achievement.
  • Increasing the amount of time students spend in physical education may make small positive contributions to academic achievement, particularly for girls.
  • Regular physical activity and physical fitness are associated with higher levels of academic performance.
  • Physical activity is beneficial to general cognitive functioning.

From Trost and van der Mars (2009, p. 4).

Likewise, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2010) reviewed 43 studies of the associations between physical activity and academic performance and found that physical activity was positively related to measures of academic achievement, classroom behaviors, cognitive skills, and attitudes.

Specific to physical education, the same CDC review of research looked at 14 studies and concluded that time spent in physical education has either a positive relationship or no relationship with the level of academic achievement and that increased physical education time does not have a negative relationship with academic achievement. Taken together, these arguments support instruction in physical literacy and the inclusion of physical education within the K-12 curriculum.

Comprehensive School Physical Activity Programs

While, of course, the school physical education program is critical in developing physically literate students, this program should function as one very important part of a Comprehensive School Physical Activity Program (CSPAP). A CSPAP encompasses a range of possible school-based physical activity opportunities, including physical education lessons, to help children attain the recommended 60 minutes per day of moderate to vigorous physical activity (SHAPE America 2013). SHAPE America (2013) specifies five goals and five components of a CSPAP:

  1. Provide a variety of physical activity opportunities throughout the school day, with a high-quality physical education program as the foundation.
  2. Provide physical activity opportunities both before and after school, so that all students can participate in at least 60 minutes of physical activity daily.
  3. Incorporate physical activity opportunities for faculty and staff members, as well as for families.
  4. Encourage and reinforce physical activity opportunities in the community.
  5. Coordinate among the CSPAP components to maximize understanding, application, and practice of the knowledge and skills learned in physical education so that all students are physically educated and motivated to pursue a lifetime of physical activity.

Possible components of a CSPAP are

  1. physical education curriculum,
  2. physical activity during school,
  3. physical activity before and after school,
  4. staff involvement, and
  5. family and community engagement.

The physical education curriculum is a major focus of this book, so we will not expand on that here, but other components warrant some additional explanation. Physical activity before, during, and after school can include physical activity (e.g., walking or jumping rope) clubs, energizer or brain breaks during lessons (i.e., teachers engage their class in some physical activity in the classroom to stimulate students’ brain activity), recess, and intramural or interscholastic sports activities. Staff involvement refers to programs that staff initiate for the benefit of students, or employee wellness programs that are developed for staff. The latter could include programs that involve staff in, for example, walking or hiking, aquatic activities, cycling, yoga, or other gym-based activities. Lastly, but still important, an effective CSPAP also works with parents to foster family engagement in physical activity and to promote the use of community resources, such as walking trails, recreational sport leagues, and fitness-based classes. By engaging with their parents and the community, students are more likely to develop positive physical activity attitudes and habits that will last a lifetime.

Physical Literacy: Advice From the Field

Reflection Questions and Activities

More Excerpts From Essentials of Teaching Physical Education 2nd Edition With HKPropel Access