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RESEARCH: The Benefits of Physical Literacy for Children and Educators

Since the summer of 2018, The Early Years Physical Literacy Research Team, with funding from Active for Life, B2ten, and Government of Canada's Social Development Partnerships Program - Children and Families Component, has been conducting a proof of concept study to determine the potential benefits for young children when they experience enhanced physical literacy in their child care settings. Working with 30 centres in Alberta and BC including over 600 children and 100 educators, we are learning about multiple benefits. Many of these benefits relate directly to helping young children build better brains.

Physical Literacy Proof of Concept Study in Child Care Settings

August 2018 - June 2020

Kid Jumping Trampoline
  Study Context  


Physical literacy is a concept originally proposed in 2010 by Margaret Whitehead, a British philosopher. Her rationale for adopting the term ‘literacy’ was to ensure that physical development is seen to be as important for children as are other literacies including language, reading, writing, and numeracy. Whitehead’s original definition for physical literacy was the motivation, confidence, and competence to move for a lifetime, a simple definition that we have chosen to use for preschool children in child care. The acquisition of basic fundamental movement skills (FMS) through enhanced physically literate environments is a prerequisite for children’s continued involvement in recreation or sport activities.

Regular opportunities for physical activity (PA) and physical literacy (PL) may increase preschool children’s motivation, confidence and competence to move for a lifetime, thus potentially reducing health risks later in life. Emerging research with preschool children is showing that PA and PL for young children may improve school readiness by increasing executive function and social and emotional development specifically in the areas of attentiveness, peer relationships, confidence, persistence, and creativity.

The early years, between birth and five, set the trajectory for a child’s life; therefore, healthy lifestyles need to be developed during this time. It is crucial to begin to build a body of evidence demonstrating how PA and PL can be fostered during the early years and its impact on the healthy development of a child.

Kids at Playground
  Study Purpose & Design  


This Proof of Concept Study has been conducted in two phases and has the following design.

  1. A Leadership Team was established consisting of representatives from various government ministries and agencies related to the provision of child care in Alberta and BC.

  2. For each phase, a total of twenty centres, ten from each province, were recruited and divided equally between study and control groups. Participation for each phase was approximately 100 educators and 600 children. Control centres from Phase 1 became study centres in Phase 2.

  3. Each of the study group centres provided two educators to act as PL Leaders who received a one-day workshop and ongoing mentorship. The twelve-week APPLE Seeds program was used as the intervention.

  4. Change in educators and children was measured pre- and post-intervention quantitatively using standardized instruments and qualitatively using questionnaires, interviews, and focus groups.


The purpose of this study is to provide evidence for policymakers that quality physical literacy programming in child care settings delivered by educated and supported early childhood professionals can be a simple and cost-effective approach that provides multiple benefits for young children.  It is also the aim of this study to influence policies to ensure the adoption of the required amount of active playtime and formalized PL education for educators.

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