When asking ‘what do we want for our children?’ a common denominator in response is that they will go on to flourish in their own lives (De Ruyter, 2004). This is perhaps not a surprising response, but a more important question for us as a society is ‘are we providing the necessary environments, opportunities and experiences required in order to enable our children to flourish?’. There is no easy or clear answer to this question, but we, as a society do have a responsibility to ensure that we continually strive to provide the best possible growing conditions for our children, nurturing and developing the individuals that they are, and ultimately helping to shape the individuals that they will become in an ever-changing world. That being said, how can we encourage our children to flourish in the environments we place them in, the opportunities we provide them with and in the experiences they collect?
Encouraging our children to flourish
Our children need a holistic and collaborative approach between the home, school and community in order to maximise their potential to flourish. Therefore, parents, grand-parents, siblings, guardians, headteachers, teachers, lunch-time supervisors, play leaders, sports coaches, Brownie and Scout leaders and anyone who interacts with children need to work together in their best interests. Collectively we must provide supportive and nurturing environments, rich and varied opportunities, and create positive and meaningful experiences for our children in order to encourage them to flourish and reach their full potential.
Supportive and Nurturing Environments
Flourishing is a term used to describe a disposition whereby individuals are considered to be thriving or living optimally. Living optimally can be considered as a disposition that simultaneously connotes generativity, growth, and resilience (Frederickson and Losada, 2005). Therefore, the environments we place our children in must also support and nurture generativity, growth, and resilience. This can be achieved by ensuring that children are in a safe environment both physically, socially and emotionally surrounded by people who help to nurture them holistically.
Rich and Varied Opportunities
In order for children to develop and be nurtured holistically it is important that they are exposed to a range of rich and varied opportunities. These opportunities provide conditions where children can develop their generativity, growth, and resilience by being exposed to new and challenging situations. In order to flourish children and indeed adults, need to have the inner resource to be able to cope and respond to challenging situations. Providing a range of rich and varied opportunities helps to develop this inner resource enabling children to reach their full potential and go on to flourish.
Positive and Meaningful Experiences
Flourishing can be fostered by creating positive and meaningful experiences. Experiences are encountered through our bodily perceptions, movements, emotions and feelings, and through these perceptions, meaning becomes possible (Johnson, 1999). Meaning attribution is completely unique to the individual child but it is important that children develop a range of positive experiences in order to shape their future outlook and perspective on life. Central to this, is the notion that we as humans create ourselves as we live and interact with the world around us (Merleau-Ponty, 1996). These interactions or experiences ultimately shape who we become. Therefore, positive and meaningful experiences from the perspective of the individual child is essential in order to enable them to develop into an adult who is able to interact productively with the world around them.
Children’s Health and Wellbeing
There are many constituents that help to contribute towards flourishing. It can be argued that in order to live optimally or indeed flourish some basic or fundamental conditions must be established. One such fundamental condition that underpins whether or not a child or adult is able to flourish is their health and wellbeing. Central to facilitating optimal health and wellbeing is regular engagement in physical activity. Physical activity has a dual purpose in facilitating flourishing. Firstly, regular engagement in physical activity has numerous health and wellbeing benefits that help to provide a foundation from which children and adults can flourish. Secondly, physical activity itself can provide positive and meaningful experiences whereby individuals can develop their generativity, growth, and resilience, in other words have partial realisations of flourishing through physical activity. Therefore, promoting regular engagement in physical activity is a key element in helping individuals to live optimally, thrive and go on to flourish. However, physical activity levels are in decline across both the adult and child population of the UK (British Heart Foundation, 2015). Physical literacy aims to reverse this trend by facilitating a more holistic, realistic and appropriate approach to physical activity promotion.
A Physical Literacy Approach
Physical literacy is described as a disposition whereby individuals have the “motivation, confidence, physical competence, knowledge and understanding to value and take responsibility for engagement in physical activity for life” (IPLA, 2017).
Central to the concept of physical literacy are strong philosophical foundations that, put simply; embrace the holistic development of the individual; acknowledges that individuals are unique according to their life experiences and interactions with their environment; and that on account of these unique interactions each individual will view the world differently.
Physical literacy adopts a holistic approach viewing the body and mind as inseparable, interconnected and entwined. This approach places equal value on both physical and psychological health and wellbeing. Physical literacy is also holistic in its approach by equally valuing the elements of motivation, confidence, physical competence and knowledge and understanding identified within the definition. Equally valuing these elements maximises the chances of promoting sustained engagement in physical activity. Without one of these elements a barrier to participation may take its place.
Positive and Meaningful Physical Activity Experiences
Similar to the previous section above, physical literacy also aims to promote and foster positive and meaningful physical activity experiences. These experiences must be culturally and socially relevant as well as rich and varied to provide a strong foundation from which a life time of physical activity may develop. Positive experiences are more likely to engender a positive disposition and attitude towards physical activity engagement, with the converse also being true for negative experiences. Therefore, whenever and wherever possible positive physical activity experiences should be facilitated.
Inclusive and Person-Centred
Physical literacy takes an inclusive and personalised approach to physical activity promotion embracing the notion that all individuals are on their own unique physical literacy journey. Regardless of endowment physical activity is accessible for all and is an integral part of being human. Therefore, physical activity promotion needs to be fully inclusive and person-centred to ensure that their own unique physical literacy journey is nurtured.
A flourishing life is something that is not necessarily achieved instantaneously, but it is possible to have partial realisations or expressions of it (Rasmussen, 1999). We must collectively in the home, school and community look to provide the best possible environments, opportunities and experiences for our children so that they can flourish. One of the key challenges in today’s society is the diminishing levels of children’s health and wellbeing as a direct result of societal and environmental changes including poorer diet and nutrition, sedentary behaviour and physical inactivity. While each of these areas need to be addressed, the promotion of sustained engagement in physical activity has a tremendous value and role to play in promoting flourishing by contributing to children’s health, wellbeing and by providing meaningful experiences that help them understand themselves and the world around them. Physical literacy can help to promote engagement in physical activity and could also be the catalytic concept to bring together the home, school and community in a collaborative approach. We cannot afford to gamble with our children’s futures, we need to act now to ensure that we are indeed providing the best possible growing conditions for our children, so that they may be and continue to become happy, healthy individuals who thrive and flourish.
- British Heart Foundation. (2015) Physical activity statistics, 2015. British Heart Foundation.
- De Ruyter, D. J. (2004) Pottering in the Garden? On Human Flourishing and Education. British Journal of Educational Studies, 52(4), 377-389.
- Fredrickson, B. L., & Losada, M. F. (2005) Positive emotions and the complex dynamics of human flourishing. American Psychologist, 60, 678–686.
- Johnson, M. (1999) The Meaning of the Body. USA: The University of Chicago Press.
- Rasmussen, D. B. (1999) Human Flourishing and the Appeal to Human Nature. Social Philosophy and Policy, 16, pp 1-43. DOI:10.1017/S0265052500002235.