Keeping Learning Fun with Participant Choice

My new book, Physical Literacy on the Move, helps teachers develop the physical literacy of their students. In this blog post, which I originally shared with Human Kinetics Europe, details the importance participant choice has on children’s learning.


Physical literacy learning that integrates participant choice provides children with the opportunity to take ownership over their learning. It also encourages engagement in learning that matters most to them.

There are times when children and youths can make choices around personal interests or pursue learning options based on their specific needs.  The limitations of choice vary based on the specific participant, the game or activity, the facility and equipment available. As well as, other factors specific to each participants learning style. Educators act as facilitators while the children make choices around their activity/game groupings, equipment, game setup and adaptations to optimize the challenge and maximize the participation and fun.

Through the learning process, flexibility is key to creating a learning environment where participants have the opportunity to experiment with personal choices in order to work at their optimal level of challenge. Many small games or drills should be occurring at once to maximize participation. Letting each group make their own choices provides participants of all skill levels the opportunity to have their personal needs met when learning together within the same activity space.

There are three ways educators can offer participant choice within their physical literacy programming.

Modify the equipment

Allow participants the chance to select the type, colour or size of equipment. This provides students with the opportunity to develop the same fundamental movement or sports skills. As well as, making accommodations for their own interests or needs.

Example: When working on developing an overhand throw, does the size or colour of the object (because maybe it’s not even a ball) matter?

Modify the playing area

Allow participants the chance to change up the distance of the playing area, distance from the target or even the size of net. It provides them with the opportunity to increase or decrease the challenge of the activity as well as increase or decrease the physical activity intensity level.

Example: Beginning level participants, who are newly learning a fundamental movement or sports skill, might find value in a small activity area, decreasing the space to travel and a number of movement or sports skills required to travel through space.

Modify the rules

Allow participants the chance to select the scoring scheme. This can involve how many passes need to occur before a point is scored, or the number of steps each participant is allowed to take.

Example: High level participants might choose a point scoring scheme that favours more challenging skills in a game requiring aim and accuracy versus simply participation or getting the object in the area of a target.

Regardless of the physical literacy learning experience, the educator should maintain a focus on participant choice, helping to create a meaningful learning environment where the needs and interests of all participants matter while being active and learning together.

Featuring over 120 games and activities, my book, Physical Literacy on the Move is available to buy from for $32.95. 

Have fun with Ophea’s 50 Fitness Activity Cards this summer!

The following is a blog post I wrote for Ophea Canada on how educators and parents can get kids active using the Ophea’s 50 Fitness Activity Cards. These easy to use cards are available for order here, or can easily be made by writing your own favourite physical activities on index cards or theme card cut outs.

CC_50fitblog_15JN16With warm weather here to stay, it’s the perfect opportunity to add some fun and play into your everyday activities. Here are three new ways you can use your favourite Ophea 50 Fitness Activity Cards.

Beanbag Balance

Adapted from Ophea’s workshop DPA: Getting Active in Any Space

  1. Participants move around the classroom with a bean bag balanced on their shoulder.  Leader periodically calls out a change in locomotor movement.
  2. If the bean bag falls off, they must perform a 50 fitness activity on the spot until one of their classmates comes over to them.
  3. Their classmate must bend down and pick up the bean bag and put it back on the shoulder of the participant who dropped it.
  4. They must balance their own bean bag at the same time.
  5. If one participant’s bean bag falls off while trying to replace the beanbag, they must both perform an on the spot 50 fitness activity until someone comes and replaces their beanbag.

Tail Chase

Adapted from Ophea’s

  1. Participants place a  streamer/bandana/ribbon in the side of their shorts.
  2. Pairs attempt to grab each other’s “tail” without having their tail grabbed by their partner.
  3. If a tail is grabbed the participant who lost their tail selects one 50 fitness activity for both participants to perform. They both start off performing one repetition of the activity. Each time a tail is grabbed they add one repetition on (e.g., the first time they perform one chicken jack, the second time they perform two chicken jacks, the third time three and so on). The tail is then returned and the game continues.

Fire 5/10

Adapted from Ophea Ambassador Cindy Merritt.

  1. In pairs participants face each other with 1 or 2 hands behind their back.
  2. On the signal “1, 2, show” participants reveal their hands with any number of fingers showing.
  3. Participants add up the fingers of both/all hands as soon as possible, with the goal to shout out the correct answer first.
  4. Participants perform a 50 fitness activity based on whether they shouted out the correct response first. Shout out first: “Chicken jacks”, Shout out second: “Squat kicks”, Tie: Coffee grinders

View the original post here.

Physical & emotional safety is a precondition for learning in H&PE

Students learn best in an environment that is physically and emotionally
safe. In health and physical education, we often think of the need to keep our students physically safe. We have them checking to ensure their shoes are laced, hair is tied, and jewellery is removed. There is physically an inherent risk, and we want to do as much as we can to reduce it.

As educators we need to keep in mind that students learning is occurring in a public space where others can see them explore, learn, succeed, and make mistakes, and because of this, students emotionally safety should be top of mind as well. Student’s also discuss health topics that may be personal, and have implications for their personal health and well-being, so creating an inclusive and emotionally safe environment is critical.

Teachers need to provide a physically and emotionally safe environment for learning by emphasizing the importance of safety in physical activity, treating students with respect at all times, being sensitive to individual differences, following all board safety guidelines, and providing an inclusive learning environment that recognizes and respects the diversity of all students and accommodates individual strengths, needs, and interests.

A recent video from Ophea shares how some teachers in Ontario are bringing these concepts to life. Check it out!

Is your learning environment physically and emotionally safe? Ask yourself these reflection questions from the Ontario Health and Physical Education curriculum, 2015.

Self-check Questions:

  • Is instruction designed to ensure a positive experience in a safe, inclusive, and
    supportive environment for all students?
  • Are all school board safety and equity guidelines being followed?
  • Are intentional steps being taken by educators and students to build skills for
    healthy relationships and ensure that bullying and harassment are prevented, or
    addressed if and when they occur, in the change room, the gym, outdoors, and in
    all learning spaces?
  • Are activities being modified or adapted as required to ensure that all students
    are included?
  • Is exercise presented as a positive and healthy experience rather than being used
    as punishment?
  • Does the program ensure maximum participation for all by avoiding activities
    in which students may be eliminated from play, and thereby deprived of
    opportunities to participate, practise, and improve?
  • Are teams designated in ways that are inclusive and fair, avoiding potentially
    insensitive methods of selection (e.g., having teams chosen by student captains)?
  • Are students’ diverse backgrounds taken into account when health topics are
    introduced, to ensure that discussions have personal relevance and that topics
    are addressed with sensitivity?