A 20th-Century Narrative on the Origins of the Physical Literacy Construct

in Journal of Teaching in Physical Education
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  • 1 University of Toronto
  • 2 University of Manitoba
  • 3 University of Florida
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While it is commonly thought that physical literacy is an early 21st-century construct and is often credited to Margaret Whitehead, in fact, the term physical literacy can be traced back to the late 1800s. In this narrative, the authors review descriptions of physical literacy that appeared in the late 19th and early to mid-20th century literature and show how physical literacy is historically tied to the reoccurring contextual issue of threats to active lifestyles and how definitional components of the construct have both remained consistent, while others changed over the course of the century. They conclude by discussing some tensions that have arisen with the Whiteheadian construction of the term, as well as the conflation of the term with fitness or physical education. In doing so, the authors hope to open up greater discussion of the multidisciplinary potential of this construct.

Cairney is with the University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Kiez and Kriellaars are with the University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. Roetert is with the University of Florida, Gainesville, FL.

Kriellaars (dean.kriellaars@umanitoba.ca) is corresponding author.
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