The impact of circus arts instruction on the physical literacy of children in grades 4 and 5

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Kiez, Tia K. M.
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Purpose: The purpose of this study was to examine the impact of circus arts instruction on the physical literacy (PL) of children in grades 4 and 5. Methods: A prospective, clustered, quasi-experimental design was used to compare schools with circus arts instruction in physical education class (PE CIRCUS) to three matched schools using standard Physical Health and Education curriculum delivery (PE). PL assessments were obtained at the beginning and end of one semester using PLAY Tools ( These tools provided an assessment of 1) motor competence, confidence, and comprehension, 2) the child's self-report of physical literacy, 3) the PE teacher's surrogate assessment of the child, 4) the parental assessment of the child, and 5) an inventory of the child's activities. Results: 211 students participated, with equal numbers in grades 4 and 5, and an even distribution between PE and PE CIRCUS groups. There were significant (p<0.05) improvements in motor competence in movement skills (curricular linked) over time for both school settings, but with substantial endpoint differences (7.9%, p<0.01) in favour of PE CIRCUS for 15 of 18 movement skills in grade 5 only. The gender gap in motor competence in the PE CIRCUS group was smaller than that in the PE group. Children in the PE CIRCUS schools revealed greater movement terminology comprehension and higher confidence in execution (p<0.05). Children in the PE CIRCUS schools reported greater confidence, felt more talented, were more eager to participate (p=0.055), and girls associated physical activity with happiness (p<0.05) more than those in the PE schools. Conclusion: Circus arts instruction can effectively aid in the development of physical literacy in children. Providing a quality physical literacy experience, such as circus arts instruction, does not amplify the gender gap, but provides equitable levels of motor competence development for males and females, and assists with achieving current PE curricular objectives. The results of this study provide insight to allow for further development of effective physical education delivery methods in schools, and provide quantitative research to support the positive effects of circus arts instruction reported qualitatively.
Circus arts instruction, Physical literacy, Physical education, Physical activity