Physical Literacy at the Start Line: Young Children’s Motor Competence, Fitness, Physical Activity, and Fitness Knowledge

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Purpose: Developing physically literate individuals is a major goal of school physical education. To date, no research in the United States has examined physical literacy by simultaneously measuring multiple dimensions among young children. The purpose of this study was to examine students’ current status of physical literacy in third grade. Method: Students (N = 342) from four elementary schools in Texas participated in the study. Dimensions of physical literacy including fundamental motor skills, health-related physical fitness, physical activity, and fitness knowledge were measured using the PE Metrics, FitnessGram, accelerometers, and a written test, respectively. Results: The students showed varying levels of competencies across the physical literacy dimensions. Based on the results from multivariate analyses of variance, physical literacy as the single overarching factor was statistically associated with gender, Wilks’s λ = .90, F(5, 316) = 6.82, p < .01, weight status, Wilks’s λ = .81, F(5, 316) = 14.43, p < .01, and ethnicity, Wilks’s λ = .96, F(5, 316) = 2.47, p < .05. Subsequent univariate analyses showed that girls had higher cardiorespiratory endurance but lower physical activity than boys; students with healthy body weight had higher cardiorespiratory endurance and fundamental motor skills than those with unhealthy weight; and Hispanic children displayed higher muscular fitness than non-Hispanic children. Conclusion: The physical literacy discrepancies by gender, weight status, and ethnicity identified in this study are useful for physical educators to promote physical literacy in various student groups.

Gu and Zhang are with the Department of Kinesiology, The University of Texas, Arlington, TX. Chen is with the School of Kinesiology, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA.

Address author correspondence to Xiangli Gu at Xiangli.gu@uta.edu.
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