As a mother of a child with a disability there is always something that I am looking for, whether it is something to further my daughter’s education, physical health, social circle or cultural world. About a year ago I was introduced to CAN (Calgary Ability Network). I have learned so much from the individuals within the network and have been introduced to many new groups and organizations.
A few months ago, the catch phrase “physical literacy” was brought up in our circle. It sounded scholarly. What does this mean? Physical literacy is defined as “Individuals who are physically literate move with competence and confidence in a wide variety of physical activities in multiple environments that benefit the healthy development of the whole person.” For me this phrase was exciting to the world of children, which includes children with disabilities. How can we then apply this concept to children with disabilities? We discussed how we as a community could involve children with disabilities in recreation. Not just involve them, but also give them the tools to enable the use of recreation throughout their entire lives, for recreation to become part of their everyday life, and eventually having recreation become a basis for physical literacy.
My question was “What about the schools?” All children attend school, and all children must participate in gym (as it was called in my day). So what is happening in our schools to allow our children to develop their own physical literacy? I approached my daughter’s physical education leader and asked her about the phrase physical literacy and how it was being used at the CBE. I was not surprised to hear she had not heard of the phrase nor was there any plan for it in the school system. Not to say that gym today is not working to empower our kids and give them a stable foundation of physical literacy, but that particular phrase was not being used.
With this phrase I somehow feel that we have put a huge emphasis on physical education, as we should. It is one of the cornerstones of our growth and development. So… with integration and the knowledge we now have about every individual’s ability to learn in individual ways, we have begun to personalize education and it is time that we introduce this to gym class too. I was VERY fortunate to have approached this particular teacher, as it turned out she was more than interested in the concept and more than eager to get started on a plan. Yeah, an ally!!!
When I remember back to what gym was like when I was a kid it only makes sense that is where our roots of physical literacy come from. We learned how to throw a ball, catch a ball, hit a ball, dodge a ball…we learned how to dance, tumble and jump. I believe that today kids still learn these skills. My question again is how do kids with disabilities get to develop these skills too.
Since that initial meeting , I have been in contact with our phys ed leader and shared ideas as well as contacts from other schools. Schools that specialize in students with disabilities. My daughter has Down syndrome. She is outgoing and active in her own way, but I always feel she doesn’t participate fully in school and especially in gym class. Gym is a busy place. It is a loud place. It is a physically active place. All of these things inhibit my daughter from fully participating. My daughter can be shy, and easily overwhelmed. Yet school is where everyone is introduced to physical literacy, so how is my daughter getting her physical literacy?
Bringing the phrase physical literacy to our gym teacher was empowering for me and for my daughter. A plan is being created. A plan that takes into account all the sensory issues my daughter may have, a plan that enables her to be successful at her attempts and yet still challenge her to work on her own physical literacy, at her own pace, in her own way. I challenge everyone to bring this phrase and concept to your children’s physical education leader and see what their schools are doing for them. The more people who speak out the greater the word becomes. I was thrilled at the response I received. I hope you will be too.
I will report back at the end of the school year to let you know how gym class was for my daughter. I have a feeling I will have wonderful news to report.
Melinda Watson, Mom
Several authors contribute to the CAN Blog.