University of Calgary


December 7, 2010

Exergames teach physical literacy

By Don McSwiney

Photo courtesy of Don McSwineyPhoto courtesy of Don McSwineyPhysical literacy is an idea that is gaining a lot of currency with physical education teachers and childhood development experts. The term describes the balance and movement skills that every child needs to master in life to be successful and confident in sports, games and recreational activities.

These skills have traditionally been taught through conventional physical education drills and games—but one school in Calgary has been using a less traditional teaching method, video games.

The Foundations for the Future Academy in Calgary is the home of the University of Calgary’s Canadian Exergaming Research Centre. Faculty of Kinesiology Researcher Dr. Larry Katz, who heads the Centre, says that the new generation of video games could be an important tool in teaching children physical literacy and balance

“Our studies to this point suggest that children who play these interactive games, improve their postural stability, or balance, to the same level as children who are taught these skills in a more traditional, physical education environment,” says Katz. “The point is that these children really enjoy playing the games and are likely to play them outside of a gym class setting, which I think makes them a very important potential tool in helping children who don’t enjoy traditional sports and games to learn physical literacy skills and balance.”

Katz, along with PhD student Dwayne Sheehan, began their research at the school last spring and have undertaken a number of studies to determine the impact and benefit of exergaming activity. Sheehan says the data has been remarkable.

“We have found that children who participate in some of the games that require graduated balance control, can improve their scores on balance between 25 percent (grade three students) and 29 percent (grade four students,) over a six week period,” says Sheehan. “So to this point the results have been very good.”

Katz and Sheehan are quick to point out that the video games are not a substitute for sports or gym class, but are definitely a proven way to learn balance and physical literacy skills while becoming a little more active. Katz adds that learning these skills may also help in the fight against childhood obesity. “Many of these children just don’t feel comfortable competing in sports and games, and part of the reason for this may be because they lack the fundamental movement skills necessary to enjoy sports.”

“Perhaps learning these skills in a virtual environment that they feel comfortable in is an important first step to becoming more active and feeling better about their ability to compete and take part in sports and games.”

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