Advancement of Education: Physical Literacy
The Social Circus Foundation is committed to advancing physical literacy through the circus arts. Due to their variability, transferability and inherent fun, circus skills are unparalleled among the various sports and movements in developing long-term physical literacy. By empowering students to move with confidence and competence in a wide variety of activities and environments, circus helps develop the whole person—not just in physical terms, but also cognitive, affective and behavioural.
Physical literacy encompasses the motivation, confidence, physical competence, knowledge and understanding to value and take responsibility for engagement in physical activities for life. It helps establish purposeful physical pursuits as an integral part of one’s lifestyle, which has lifetime benefits beyond the physical. Active children are healthier, get better grades in school, are happier, and have improved self-confidence. And they are more likely to grow into active adults who have a reduced risk of a variety of illnesses, which translates into greater lifetime productivity and a lower burden on governmental social programs.
A key element of physical literacy is the mastering of basic human movements, fundamental movement skills and fundamental sport skills that permit a child to read their environment and make appropriate decisions, allowing them to move confidently and with control in a wide range of physical activity situations.  Physical literacy is the foundation of long-term participation, performance and excellence in physical activity and sport.
In recent years, a collaborative process among ParticipACTION, Sport for Life Society, the Healthy Active Living and Obesity Research Group at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute, Physical and Health Education Canada, Canadian Parks and Recreation Association, and the Ontario Society of Physical Activity Promoters in Public Health and the International Physical Literacy Association resulted in the promulgation of Canada’s Physical Literacy Consensus Statement.
This Consensus Statement defines physical literacy as including four essential and interconnected elements:
- Motivation and confidence (affective)
- Physical competence (physical)
- Knowledge and understanding (cognitive)
- Engagement in physical activities for life (behavioural)
The acrobatic skills that form the core component of circus training (along with sports like gymnastics) teach fundamental movement patterns and proprioception that are the foundation of all physical activity and sport. That is why acrobatic skills are broadly considered the most transferable physical skill set, with the most significant impact on general physical literacy.
No other single sport covers as many of the fundamental locomotor and body skills, including walking, running, balance (tightwire, handstands), jumping (acrobatics), cycling (unicycling), skipping, throwing (juggling), kicking (acrobatics), catching and trapping (juggling and object manipulation). The only locomotor skills not explicitly trained through circus are skating/skiing, swimming and striking—but at a higher level, both ski jumpers and divers do train in acrobatics. The ability to control one’s body movement in space has benefits in every sport and physical activity, and even on minimizing the risk of accidents outside sport (e.g., landing from a fall, etc.)
Circus has additional benefits with respect to the motivation, confidence and engagement elements. Circus puts a greater stress on keeping the training fun and engaging. It is generally team-based and non-competitive, with motivation driven by a child’s internal desire to master a given set of movements for their own sake. And because circus has so many sub-specialties, every child can excel above and beyond their peers in some aspect of circus—whether that’s trampoline or juggling or unicycle or the performative aspects of any one of dozens of sub-categories of the circus arts—creating a deep sense of confidence that is grounded in real achievement.
In the end, circus has as many potential sub-categories as there are participants, making each student’s physical literacy education unique despite being grounded in the most fundamental physical movements of the human body.
With physical competence comes confidence, and with confidence comes an increasingly powerful motivation and engagement. Through this process, physical literacy grows and lays the foundation of a lifetime of physical participation and health.
Physical literacy is not just about sports. It’s about giving children and youth the opportunity to succeed—to live a happy, healthy and long life.
 International Physical Literacy Association, May 2014, cited in Canada’s Physical Literacy Consensus Statement, June 2015. http://physicalliteracy.ca/physical-literacy/consensus-statement/
 Physical Literacy | Canadian Sport for Life: http://www.canadiansportforlife.ca/learn-about-canadian-sport-life/physical-literacy