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John Cairney, Tia Kiez, E. Paul Roetert and Dean Kriellaars

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.

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Dean J. Kriellaars, John Cairney, Marco A.C. Bortoleto, Tia K.M. Kiez, Dean Dudley and Patrice Aubertin

Objective: To examine the impact of circus arts instruction in physical education (PE) on the physical literacy of children in Grades 4 and 5. Methods: A clustered, quasi-experimental design was used comparing children in schools with circus arts instruction in physical education (n = 101) with children in socioeconomic status-matched schools using standard PE instruction (n = 110). Physical literacy assessments performed at the beginning and end of one semester using the Physical Literacy Assessment for Youth tools. Results: Significant improvements in motor competence for both groups; endpoint differences favored the circus arts instruction in physical education schools for 15 of 18 movement skills for Grade 5 and 7 of 18 skills for Grade 4 (p < .05), with corresponding increases in children’s confidence and comprehension of movement terminology, as well as active participation. The gap in motor competence between girls and boys in the circus arts instruction in physical education schools was smaller than in standard PE schools. Conclusions: Circus arts instruction enriched PE can effectively aid in the development of physical literacy in children with greater gender equity.