Little girl at top of slide before going down

The Role of Playgrounds in Promoting Physical Literacy

The role of playgrounds in promoting physical literacy

Playgrounds are more than just fun. They are essential in child development for many reasons, from promoting social interaction to encouraging the imagination to boosting physical activity. Only 21% of kids meet their daily 60-minute activity goals. This decline in physical fitness can lead to the loss of confidence and resistance to physical activity throughout people’s lives.

Physical literacy exists to combat this trend, and playgrounds help with physical literacy. As kids play, they become unconsciously active, boosting their fitness levels, building confidence, and learning about their preferences — activities that help set them up for healthy relationships with activity.

Understanding Physical Literacy

Physical literacy means moving our bodies confidently and competently through multiple physical activities and environments. The term was first incorporated into “National Standards & Grade-Level Outcomes for K-12 Physical Education” in 2014. It’s important to everyone at every stage of life, from toddlers and kids learning more about physical activity and movement skills to adults maintaining physical fitness throughout their lives.

Physical literacy is multidimensional, describing a holistic foundation of physical activity. It consists of four essential components, including:

  • Motivation and confidence: This is the enjoyment and self-assurance element, referring to a child’s confidence and happiness in adopting physical activity as a part of their life.
  • Physical competence: The physical element of physical literacy — or competence — refers to a child’s ability to develop movement skills and patterns. Their capacity to experience different forms and durations of physical activity. The higher a child’s physical competence, the more physical activities and settings they can enjoy.
  • Knowledge and understanding: This cognitive element includes identifying and expressing the essential qualities influencing movement and understanding the benefits of an active lifestyle. Kids also learn about safety and boundaries associated with physical activity and environments.
  • Engagement in physical activities for life: The behavioral element refers to older kids taking personal responsibility by remaining active regularly. It involves proactive involvement in fulfilling and challenging activities as part of their lifestyle.

In short, physical literacy is about having a good relationship with activity, the confidence to try new things, and the desire to make it a part of your life from childhood.

The Lifelong Benefits of Physical Literacy

Obesity is a significant concern worldwide, and 39% of the global population has obesity. As one in five children in the United States are obese, a good relationship with physical activity from childhood has never been more critical. Physical literacy is a lifelong gift, providing kids with the following benefits into their adulthood:

  • Preventing injuries: As kids develop proper movement mechanics early on, physical literacy can help prevent sports-related injuries in adulthood.
  • Fostering enjoyment: Kids who associate physical activity with fun from an early age are more likely to enjoy sports.
  • Boosting academic success: Physically active kids tend to have better grades, cognitive performance, and classroom behavior. Higher physical fitness levels are associated with better memory and concentration.
  • Improving mental health: The link between body and mind promotes mental health, resilience, and social skills as kids grow older. Physical literacy helps kids deal with new experiences and reduces stress.

Physical literacy shapes every aspect of our lives. Kids who understand the importance of a healthy and active lifestyle can transfer movement skills into different settings. They can reflect on their strengths and feel empowered to make physical activity choices that improve their quality of life.

The Power of Playgrounds in Child Development

Playgrounds provide kids with a safe space to develop crucial skills

Playgrounds provide kids with a safe space to develop crucial physical, social, and emotional skills to gain self-confidence and improve their physical literacy. Playgrounds promote physical activity through unstructured play, allowing kids to engage in spontaneous action and have fun.

When kids play on the playground, they combine their imaginations with the physical, turning popular playground equipment into their personal workout. They use the equipment to improve their agility, strength, balance, and coordination as they develop social and emotional skills.

Physical literacy is about developing the knowledge, skills, and confidence to enjoy a lifetime of physical activity. Playgrounds act as catalysts for this association between activity and fun, fostering a culture of active living from early childhood. Some playground activities that promote physical literacy include playing games on playground equipment — traditional games such as tag, hopscotch, kickball, and Red Rover boost their athleticism through running, jumping, and climbing.

Playgrounds Designed for Physical Literacy

Design is crucial for balancing enjoyment and physical growth on a playground. A well-designed playground gets kids excited about play and teaches them physical literacy and other development skills that appear “just fun” at face value but help their bodies and minds develop and function. Some important considerations for physical literacy playground design include:


Playground circuits are an excellent way to promote physical literacy in kids. A playground should have multi-functional equipment. The layout must flow from one activity to the next in a fun and engaging way.


Equipment variety is crucial for kids to explore their physicality. Various play elements encouraging climbing, jumping, hanging, swinging, and balancing help kids activate primary muscle groups and define their activity preferences.


Combining quality playground equipment with the natural landscape sparks the imagination and provides more opportunities for physical activity. Incorporate pathways, plants, and the existing topography to encourage different types of movement.


Challenging play makes kids feel accomplished and empowers them to make choices about their physical activity. Emulate the physical challenges kids might face in real life so kids can fail and succeed, building perseverance and overcoming fear.

Age Appropriateness

Physical literacy looks different for every age group. Consider the intended age group for your playground and include age-appropriate equipment to meet the kids where they are, like low-level play structures for infants and toddlers and progressively more challenging elements for older kids. If your playground should cater to multiple age groups, incorporate different play areas so kids can gain confidence and interact with their peers.

Promote Physical Literacy on Your Playground With Little Tikes Commercial

Promote physical literacy on your playground with Little Tikes Commercial

Every playground is an opportunity to promote physical literacy. In many cases, playgrounds are the most effective way to introduce kids to physical activity and help them build confidence. Whether you’re an educator, community leader, or daycare facility manager, helping kids start their physical journeys is everyone’s responsibility. With Little Tikes Commercial, you can design a playground that encourages kids to push their own boundaries in a safe and engaging space.

We understand the importance of safe and age-appropriate play for promoting physical literacy and cognitive well-being. Our team is committed to seeing kids grow, thrive, and find their physical confidence in the safest possible environment. Reach out to us for more information on your playground’s potential and to get a quote. Alternatively, find a local representative and start your journey today.