April 5, 2019

Kinesiology students turn child's play into physical literacy

Everybody wins through Be Fit For Life practicum placements at campus daycares
Nimra Ali, a third-year student in the Faculty of Kinesiology, gets children moving like animals at the University Child Care Centres to help them develop physical literacy.

Nimra Ali, a third-year student in the Faculty of Kinesiology, gets children moving like animals.

Leah Yardley, Be Fit For Life

The little kids walk across the room like elephants — bending their knees and swinging their arms. They get down on all fours and scamper around like puppies before switching species to lope around like monkeys for a while. With every different movement, children and kindergarten students at University Child Care Centres (UCCC) on campus are developing physical literacy.

“We teach kids how to move, and introduce some fundamental movement skills into their lives,” says Nimra Ali, a third-year student in the Faculty of Kinesiology who is finishing an eight-week practicum placement at the West Campus UCCC. “I make lesson plans every week. I like to do what the kids like so sometimes we change it up.”

Ali is one of the first students to take one of the new practicums at the daycare. They’re organized by the Be Fit for Life Centre, a not-for-profit that’s dedicated to helping Albertans be more active throughout their lives.

“We started working with the child care centres about seven years ago, giving their staff training on developing physical literacy in the early years, and that turned into some programming,” says Leah Yardley, a co-ordinator at the Be Fit for Life Centre, which is housed in the faculty.  “This past year we decided to try practicum placements to give students in kinesiology an opportunity to get some practical hands-on experience. They’ve gone really well.”

The child care centres are pleased with the practicums, too. “We appreciate having that connection with the kinesiology faculty and having young people coming in to teach the children,” says Carol Pizani, the program director at the University Child Care Centre Society West Campus. “I think it’s definitely a win/win situation: The children are led in an activity that’s going to exercise their bodies and build their muscles and we educate our staff on how to use the gym space with the children.”

Developing physical literacy — defined as the motivation, confidence, physical competence, knowledge and understanding to value and take responsibility for engagement in physical activities for life — helps children better understand how their bodies move. “There’s no right way to jump but there are different ways to jump,” says Ali. “It allows them to explore different movements and patterns and allows us to build upon their movement skills and locomotion.”

Understanding simple movements helps children build more complex movement skills. “Ninety per cent of a child’s brain develops before the age of five,” says Yardley. “That’s why it’s really important to help them with a wide variety of movement in the early years to help them build more neural connections and have those neural connections become stronger through repetition of movement.”

Physical literacy isn’t meant to set children up to become elite athletes, but it may help them discover activities and movements they enjoy doing. “They can see what they like, what they don’t like, so they know what they want to do in the future,” says Ali. “I want them to go into a sport they like but I want them to know the basics so that when they do go into these things they have a little bit of knowledge: ‘I like twirling, maybe I want to be a dancer.’ ”

Ali, who practised her animal walks at home with her seven-year-old brother before bringing them to the daycare, is planning to work as a physiotherapist helping people recover from injuries. And she really enjoyed her practicum teaching physical literacy to children: “For me, as a student, with my life so structured, I feel so free and I like being with the kids, because you have to be a kid yourself.”