Research targets children's physical literacy

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Research targets children's physical literacy


USC Research Fellow and Sport and Exercise Scientist Dr Mark McKean

20 June 2013

A University of the Sunshine Coast research project is screening the “physical literacy” of almost 1,000 local children in Years 1-8 to determine whether they have learned basic skills related to movement.

The USC team has just finished four months of recording how the children performed seven movement competencies – squat, lunge, push, pull, hinge, brace, rotate – along with their heights, weights and activity levels.

USC Research Fellow and Sport and Exercise Scientist Dr Mark McKean said the data would now be analysed. Depending on the findings, a further research project could develop an intervention model for the participating schools’ Physical Education (PE) classes.

“We’ve certainly noticed issues with the children’s movement abilities and we think it’s great the schools are keen to move to the next step with our research,” Dr McKean said.

“The children who performed well in these movements also were generally active during the day, through sport or fitness, games or lunchtime play. That may be one of the key factors.”

Dr McKean said many modern health problems were related to a lack of movement or could be treated by increased movement.

“Global research has proven the link between children who can’t move well and obesity,” he said.

“If a child doesn’t enjoy physical activity or feel capable, they won’t put themselves in that situation. They stay sedentary and inactive into adulthood.”

He said the ability to move was once a standard part of any child’s daily life and most children had a sound physical literacy that progressed into adulthood.

“However, with increasing technology, safety issues and environmental restrictions, many children no longer grow up with a movement-based approach to fun and daily activity,” he said.

“In order to provide our children with these basic foundations we must first understand the movement competencies required to develop this physical literacy.”

Dr McKean and his researchers screened the children between February and May this year at Sunshine Coast Grammar School and Immanuel Lutheran College after the principals offered their support.

Immanuel Lutheran College Principal David Bliss said: “Optimal exercise and movement competencies, flexibility and agility are cornerstones of healthy habits and lifestyle.

“Coupled with the proven links between ‘physical literacies’ and cognitive function, it was an easy decision for us to get in at the ground floor of this significant research.”

Sunshine Coast Grammar School’s Head of Primary School Paul Clegg said: “Our children are born into a digitised world where sedentary activities such as computer gaming and television viewing can take the place of physical games and activities in parks and backyards.

“We live in a protective environment where walking or riding to school has been replaced with transporting children to the school gate. Along with inactivity, childhood obesity threatens the future health and wellbeing of children.

“Children who are physically skilled are more confident, participate more, and are more likely to continue with physical pursuits later in school and life. Less-physically skilled children often stop trying and a pattern of inactivity can affect their confidence and self-esteem in other areas of learning and life.

“Sunshine Coast Grammar School is honoured to be part of the Physical Literacy Research program that will make a difference to the lives of our students now and into the future.”

The project will also have wider scope, incorporating the results of 150 children screened in Sydney and collaboration with the University of Wales in the United Kingdom.

Dr McKean, a former physical education teacher, said the current PE curriculum might need modification to address the lack of activity among modern children.

Julie Schomberg

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