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Physical Literacy: 
Adaptability and Accommodation

The second of a two-part series developed by the Move and Play partnership.

In the first workshop (Move and Play) we explored a number of ideas to incorporate physical literacy into daily lives, concentrating on strategies to keep children engaged in physical activities starting at a young age and embracing a lifelong physically active lifestyle.

In this workshop we will look at ideas and ways to modify instructions, expectations, equipment and the environment to ensure that all children are included in physical activities and equally inspired to participate regardless of needs. 

How We Learn to Move

It’s important to remember that children do not learn movement skills on their own; they need instruction, encouragement and someone to help show them how. Movement is learned through lots of repetition in a fun, welcoming and supportive environment. Repeat, repeat, repeat in lots of different places: inside and outside, in the rain and in the snow. This will help the child to learn how to move competently through Canada’s seasons and help the child to build self-confidence.

I can, I believe, I want

When children experience healthy active environments they gain physical competence, which builds confidence and the motivation to participate.

And to a child…this means that they have the want, the belief and the ‘I can’ attitude to try new things, make mistakes and take developmentally appropriate risks

Let’s take a closer look at sensory regulation, its link to a child’s learning and to physical literacy.

In this article we are going to highlight the 3 senses that are most impacted during physical movement. These are touch, hearing and vision.

What do we mean when we use the term sensory regulation?

It means how we take in and understand information from the senses.

A person can be sensitive to sensory information or they may be sensory seeking. If a person is sensitive, they may try to block sensory information. For example, if it’s too loud or noisy, they may cover their ears to reduce the sound. If a person is sensory seeking, they may for example, bang toys together to achieve the desired noise level in their environment.

How can you help this child? Be sensitive while calling children’s attention by avoiding whistles, loud music or other sudden loud sounds like popping balloons.


picture of child playing with slime

So now let’s take a look at the sense of touch. If a child is sensitive to touch, they may strongly dislike light or unexpected touch, or hold objects using finger tips to avoid the palm of the hand.

Some of the strategies you may want to try:

  • Exposing the child to different touches and textures slowly
  • Preparing the child for touch by approaching from the front and saying their name may lead to a less intense reaction
  • Using a variety of balls with different sizes, such as an “O” ball
  • Substituting bean bags, pillows, or scarves for balls
  • Be sure to speak to the child or the child’s caregivers to find out how best to introduce different equipment and play tools.

Alternatively, if a child is sensory seeking, they may purposely bump into objects or walls (as they may have higher pain threshold), enjoy small spaces, or lie on the floor or put their head down.

Strategies to try:

  • Crawling under a structure (such as a table, tree trunk) or through a tunnel (solid or cloth)
  • Navigating an obstacle course
  • Jumping, animal walks
  • Using heavier equipment such as pushing a weighted wagon


picture of child covering ears

If a child is sensitive to loud noises or a particular tone they may cover their ears from certain noise or loud sounds, hum or sing to block unwanted sounds, or get easily distracted by noises

Strategies to Try:

  • children can wear headbands, headphones or earplugs
  • turn off fluorescent lights to reduce the buzzing sound produced
  • incorporate quiet versions of games, yoga or isometric activities
  • use smaller group sizes

If a child is seeking additional auditory input they may purposely drop or bang items to hear the thud, place their ears close to noisy items such as musical instruments or sound-producing toys.

Strategies to Try:

  • signal transitions through the use of low-tones such as hitting a drum
  • use different tempos to cue for different activities, such as fast clapping for running, slow drumming for hopping, ring a bell for hands on top of head to signal tidying up.


picture of child wearing sunglasses

If a child is sensitive to visual stimulation they may prefer dim lights or dull patterns, avoid eye contact, cover or close eyes, appear fearful of bright lights, or have difficulty scanning the environment for a desired object.

Strategies to try:

  • when possible, limit additional visual input such as dimming lights
  • engage in rhythmical, predictable activities such as freeze dance
  • use a smaller area for activity so the object is easier to find

Outdoor strategies can include wearing hats or sunglasses

If a child is seeking extra visual input they may miss objects when trying to grab, they might stare or become excited when they see bright flashing lights or bright colours, they might also hesitate or fear using stairs or steps.

Strategies to try:

  • incorporate bubbles, flashlights or flashing balls into the activities
  • Be mindful when setting up program areas to provide physical cues. For example use outlined or otherwise marked areas for activities. This can be as simple as the pattern on the gym floor

Heavy work

What we’ve learned in terms of techniques and strategies to address sensory regulation, is that one of the most effective methods is using what is called “heavy work.” This describes engaging in activities that provide input into the muscles and joints which results in the ability to focus and learn. All children benefit from heavy work. For children who are constantly on the move or appear fidgety, have difficulty focusing on tasks in an appropriate manner, or appear hyperactive or out of control, you can try these strategies to help them regulate:

  • pushing or pulling a weighted item, such as a wagon, backpack, bin of toys
  • animal walks – bear walks, crab walks, frog jumps, snake crawls on belly
  • yoga
  • isometric exercises
  • movement breaks throughout the activity if waiting time is too long
  • relay course
  • carrying weighted objects such as a bin of balls
  • fidget items
  • music and dancing
  • tug-o-war in a variety of positions such as kneeling or laying on their tummy
  • The more children move, the less likely you are to have issues with behaviour and the more likely the child will be willing to learn when the time comes.

Tips for Successful Inclusion

Remember to always actively include all children in the program and encourage friendships and connections between them. This benefits everyone and helps to build trust and comfort as children learn to move in their environment.

The teacher should lead by example and engage actively with the children. Children want nothing more than you to play with them at times. Show them that you can have fun and move in different ways as you move around the activity. Let’s not forget that children need to be prompted to move. Asking questions like, can you move backwards, sideways, or what about upside down, encourages children to be creative and move in different ways. Don’t forget to role model this throughout your day.

How you provide instruction is key for successful inclusion:


  • keep instructions clear and simple, and close to 30 seconds or less
  • use cooperative games and activities,
  • use prompts (physical, visual, verbal),
  • keep your group together,
  • pair children who have extra support needs with children who have more confidence,
  • Praise the children for participation,
  • extend the child’s existing skills by challenging them to carry the next step of the game, or movement.
  • Minimize lineups and waiting
  • Keep it fun and child focused.


Equipment plays a huge role in getting children engaged. – Use your imagination to inspire children to move differently and promote exploratory play. If you don’t have enough equipment, then try to think of another activity that can happen at the same time without equipment. This will minimize wait times and maximize engagement. Rotate your props and equipment and modify existing equipment to match the needs of all the children in your program. For example, use a Batting “T” when playing baseball and a pool noodle as a cricket bat.


The environment is everything to a child.

Effective strategies when adapting your environment include:

  • having smaller group sizes which also supports no line ups or shorter wait times,
  • Have enough props,
  • Set Up the program area prior to the children’s arrival to motivate for physical literacy,
  • reduce auditory and visual distractions

All children deserve the right to play, to be engaged and to learn. Always be mindful and open to drawing from your toolbox as the needs of children change over time and are different on different days-Be creative. Include children in your planning. What would you like to do during activity time is always a good question to ask.

As the children master the beginner levels, remember to increase the difficulty of the task to keep them challenged and engaged…laughing and smiling. But don’t be afraid to keep them challenged.

Expect that all children can participate and will be included.

What is the adult’s role in all of this? That you will join in on the fun, be an active participant and make sure that no one is left out, everyone in!

In this video we suggest ideas and ways to modify instructions, expectations, equipment and the environment so that all children can be included in activities and equally inspired to participate regardless of needs. These suggestions should in no way be a substitute for training or for your own judgement as a professional regarding appropriateness and safety.

MAP videos are intended solely for general information purposes and to supplement, not replace, proper training and supervision by qualified professionals. Content does not constitute the provision of professional advice or substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment plan for any child.

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