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Getting a Jump on Physical Literacy

Daily physical activities designed to build fundamental movement skills; the basis of lifetime physical activity and brain development.

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Updates: How has your idea changed or evolved throughout the Prize? What updates have you made to this submission? (1500 characters)

Through this process, my mentor assisted me in scaling back my ambition, and better articulating my vision. As non-profiteers, it is easy to think we are able to fix every problem, everywhere, right now. While I would love to go full scale i.e. provide articulated daily Physical Education sessions developing fundamental movement skills to every child in the state, I now understand one or two focused pilot programs are sufficient. I also understand it is important to provide details of those programs as well as anticipated funding requirements. We are targeting two schools that already implement the program on varying basis. Both school leaders acknowledge and understand the importance of developing Physical Literacy in their students and are fans of the program. As both are language schools, they are also very intrigued by the perceptual language development portion of the program and the potential that component has to enhance each students learning. Both schools currently appeal to their current Physical Educators to implement the program. While all educators are highly qualified, they are less versed in the expertise required to fully instruct, assess, and support Early Years students towards Physical Literacy. Both leaders recognize this fact, yet are limited with solutions. PEP has therefore made it a priority to secure funding in order to provide schools with Early Years Physical Education Professionals in tandem with equipment, to ensure maximum results. PEP donated the equipment to Montessori del Mundo, a dual-language public charter school in Aurora. This school has a high number of low income students, with free and reduced lunch rates echoing that of Aurora Public Schools. The second school, International School of Denver, has purchased the equipment and a small amount of professional development for their three Physical Educators to implement the program. While this is an affluent, private school allocating funds for a program such as this is not a priority to the Board of Directors, who approve funding. In the course of program promotion at school events, Early Years Conferences, and amongst school leaders, there is great interest in the concept of Physical Literacy and how it connects to further learning and physical prowess. However, when the minimal cost of purpose built wooden equipment is mentioned ($2900) in addition to staff costs ($8640), interest halts. It is bewildering to engage in ideological agreement surrounding educating the whole child, yet funding stops this notion of holistic education in its tracks. We agree early experiences on all levels shape long term learning, interests, and skills. Yet this fact is often not considered as it relates to reduced attention spans, childhood obesity, readiness for learning, and generally being a kid. I understand it is the goal of Gary Community Investments and Open IDEO to identify and address these gaps with funding, my fingers are solidly crossed in anticipation.

Name or Organization

Physical Education Professionals PEP is a recently formed 501C3. The non-profit organization was formed in order to provide Physical Education Professionals to Early Years programs and schools who would otherwise not be able to employ a full time, or even part time professional.


We are currently in Denver, Colorado.

What is your stage of development?

  • Early Stage Innovator, with at least one-year experience in ECD


  • Non-profit

What is the stage of your proposal?

  • Prototyping: I have done some small tests or experiments with prospective users to continue developing my idea.

Describe how your solution could be a game-changer for your selected Opportunity Area (600 characters)

Imagine young people starting KG with a "can do" attitude. Regular movement builds confidence, curiosity, problem solving skills, muscles, and brains! Our mass schooling model continues to limit these opportunities and as a result, free thinking. It is time to open the doors to building regular gross motor exploration and skill refinement into every school day from the minute children begin their academic career. Quality Physical Education classes taught by qualified professionals start children on the path to life-long activity, build powerful neural connections, and positive attitudes.

Select an Innovation Target

  • Service: A new or enhanced service that creates value for end beneficiaries.

Tell us more about your innovation (1500 characters)

The goal of PEP is to implement daily movement programs in every Early Years program. Each activity within the program is designed for children to organically explore and develop their motor skills (balance, coordination, locomotion, and fitness), in addition to perceptual and thinking skills. Prior programs have benefited two to six year olds in schools and infants in day care centers. The acquisition of fundamental motor skills is both empowering and functional for young people. The connection between physical activity and brain development is well documented. Activities such as crossing the midline, challenges to the vestibular system, and bi-lateral movements build and smooth neural pathways. When these pathways are well practiced, well established, we are able to perform basic activities without thinking about them (automaticity). Young people are encumbered with how to move and how to complete tasks, yet we layer thinking tasks on top of these fragile, developing skills. Once automaticity is established, the brain is free to solve problems and focus on other important tasks. The added bonus is that building automaticity (practicing movements) also builds neural pathways! Often, teachers find it challenging to include these powerful, focused gross motor activities into each day. In addition, many are not comfortable with introducing these skills. It is time to introduce trained instructors providing regular Physical Education every day throughout Early Years programs

What problem are you aiming to solve? (3 sentences)

We aim to solve: 1) the question of developing readiness for learning 2) the issue of childhood obesity 3) low levels of problem solving and thinking skills

Explain your idea (5000 characters)

PEP provides an instructor, equipment, and curriculum. Schools and centers simply contribute space and little people. There is discussion surrounding the feasibility of a mobile classroom. Equipment, instructor and space all in one roll up to a school. This alleviates the issue many facilities have of limited indoor space for movement. In each session, children enjoy free movement followed by exploration of four activities designed to practice fundamental skills organized in stations. Each activity will focus on a different skill; balance, coordination, fitness and locomotion. This adds variety which enhances motivation and intrigue. After three to four sessions practicing an activity, that specific skill is assessed. After, a new, more challenging activity replaces the old one. Children love seeing the new station and become excited all over again about what they are doing. Always challenging, always new, always fun! This process produces ongoing assessment results for each student in each area (balance, coordination, fitness, and locomotion). Most intriguing is the transfer these fundamental skills have to skills within the classroom. Trouble with balance activities can relate to fidgeting and a short attention span as balance requires calm and focus. Issues performing coordination activities can result in difficulty cutting, pasting, or handling books and paper. It can also manifest in reversal of letters or mirror writing. Problems with fitness can effect rhythm and timing or even body control.

Who benefits? (1500 characters)

Children are the direct beneficiaries of this innovation. They have regular opportunities to practice gross motor skills in a free, yet contrived environment on a regular basis. Each can work at their own pace in small groups and enjoy a variety of experiences within each session. Self-esteem must be recognized as an important by-product of this program, as we celebrate "you did it" daily with young people. Beyond standing and walking in the toddler years, there is little focus on the mechanics of how to perform motor tasks. We do this daily, and there is no better expression than that of a child who has performed a motor task successfully! As a Physical Educator for 18 years, I began to notice motor skill deficiencies in my middle and high school students. These were often coupled with low self esteem towards movement and physical tasks. More intriguing, was the connection to lower academic performance, be it through low confidence or inability to make complex connections. I began to examine brain and skill development more closely and have conducted anecdotal research since 2008. My personal and professional journey then combined with a re-emergence of the concept of Physical Literacy. I was afforded the opportunity to implement this full scale Early Years Physical Education program at an international school in China. It was rewarding to watch children grow and develop through participation in this program. Physical Literacy truly is the First Literacy.

What kind of impact will your idea have? (1500 characters)

Implementation of this idea will have long-lasting outcomes in several areas. We would see a generation of children comfortable with their bodies and their abilities and it will lower childhood obesity statistics. Young people identify with school and see it as a place that cares, they will feel this caring and continue to come to school leading to graduate. A final by product, is an increase in physical prowess and athleticism - more Olympic medals, professional sporting opportunities, and athletes giving back to their community as I and many of my colleagues currently do. By focusing opportunities for physical exploration students can freely develop skills and build confidence. It is this positive feeling toward school and a feeling of connection that starts very young and persists throughout a person's academic career. Approaching a task with the assurance a level of success is possible is a skill that is learned over time. Moreover, continual presentation of physical problem solving opportunities allows students to learn and adapt this important skill. Daily quality Physical Education builds positive attitudes about self and physical activity: positive attitudes about physical activity lay the foundation for lifetime health and fitness.

How does or how could your idea impact low-income children? (1500 characters)

Low income children and families stand to benefit the most from this plan as PEP was formed as a non-profit in order to serve these communities. We knew that schools and programs in these communities would be limited with funding for PEP. The majority of low income children's time is spent indoors, with caregivers for long hours, or otherwise without access to resources. PEP's founder sent her son to a small church based program where she witnessed the long hours children spent at the center, the lack of resources, and the lack of space for physical play. With parents working two jobs and/or long hours, free play opportunities for children are limited. Therefore, schools are the only environment children can rely on to provide them with many of the resources, opportunities, and support parents are unable to. It is for this reason, that budget cuts to arts, PE, physical activity and other opportunities at schools are hitting our low income communities much harder than anticipated. Social and emotional health are also supported in PEP programs, as well as in well supervised structured and non-structured physical activity environments. These skills are standard within PE curricula and students learn much needed character skills and how to interact with others respectfully. There are numerous opportunities to work in small groups, take turns, share equipment, and move in personal space which all assist students in practicing their social emotional wellness.

Innovation: What makes your concept innovative? (5000 characters)

This concept is innovative because we rarely provide subject specialists in Early Years. The onus is fully on the teacher to provide every skill and concept to their students. However, as we all have varying strengths and interests and adults, it becomes the luck of the draw for students. They get varying experiences based on who their teacher is. This is certainly not a criticism of teachers as we ask a great deal from Early and Primary years teachers. It is merely a fact. Yet how can we allow something as important as gross motor and fundamental movement skill development to be left to professionals untrained or with low motivation for the subject? Our young people deserve better. To my knowledge, there are very few skill development specialists in schools today. The ability to break down and teach a physical skill is, in itself, a skill. It is this fact that makes this an innovative idea. The activity resources provided along with this proposal are from Perceptual Motor Programs that were popular in the 1970s and 80s. These programs were delivered to five to seven year olds. This was a time when children started school later, the testing and student performance stakes were lower, and children had a lot of opportunity for free play. We are in a much different time with regard to those elements. However, our children tend to be more advanced today and we have learned a great deal more about differentiation and how to challenge students differently. For this reason, PEP's founder began to deliver these activities to much younger children with positive results. A third innovation to this plan, is the movement into the realm of Physical Education. In many places, programs such as PEP's are utilized in an Occupational Therapeutic setting - they are used for special needs students. The innovative notion with PEP is that by starting this brain developing, skill developing work earlier, we can fend off some of our learning difficulties before they manifest. This is research we could never conduct,we can merely speculate. Yet when you witness brain function while an individual is practicing a balancing activity, you can watch the vestibular system activate and maybe, just maybe Attention Deficit Disorder is managed. Or maybe practicing eye-hand coordination early develops those ocular muscles as well as lubes those neural pathways and reading and/or writing becomes a bit easier to accomplish. It is innovative because we do not know until we try. Yet with the brain research and acknowledgment of the benefits of physical activity on learning and memory, what harm could it do?

Scale: Describe how your idea could reach a significant number of end-users. (1500 characters)

The potential market size within Colorado alone is vast given the dedication to Early Years education in our state. The most efficient use of staff and time, is to provide trained practitioners on a session basis. As physical educators would be employed by Physical Education Professionals (PEP), school overhead and cost would be limited, if not zero. At a minimum, schools would purchase a set of equipment. Alternatively, equipment can be provided by PEP for a small rental fee. Long-term financial sustainability is a challenge for any business, and is the greatest one for this organization. This is an area I am seeking advice and guidance from the professionals attached to the Early Childhood Innovation Prize.

Feasibility: Where are you with understanding the feasibility of your idea? Describe what you’ve done so far and your plans. (3000 characters)

Feasibility is very high in my mind! In reality, there are a small number of interested physical educators. This is an area that program implementation would rely heavily upon. A team of staff ready to provide classes at several schools is the foundation. The program is in one school in Colorado that has paid for the equipment and consulting services. They are utilizing their existing Physical Educators for program implementation. Again, financial support is the greatest challenge right now. I am searching for grants, funding and benefactors that believe strongly in me and the need for fundamental skill development in Early and Primary schools.

Business Viability: How viable is your business model? (5000 characters)

Anecdotally, school leaders have been supportive of the need for the program and have expressed their interest in securing a "drop in" Physical Education Professional. The greatest limitation is that it relies 100% on grants and outside funding. It is this barrier that has limited my ability to get the concept off the ground. With no personal funds to put forward, it has been challenging to take the leap from full-time employment to allow for a focus on finding funding. While there are two pseudo programs running, they are not to full scale i.e. a PEP trained educator at the helm. This has led me to the conclusion that in spite of the desire to get the program in schools, I cannot let the program be "dumbed down" in any way. Allowing for lower level versions of the program as are running now, is a great risk to the integrity of the curriculum, equipment, and philosophy the program is built upon.

HCD: How have you used human centered design to build or refine your concept? (5000 characters)

My inspiration for my project began through observation of my middle and high school PE students. I am always intrigued by children who are adverse to games, fun, and physical activity. I get such joy from these things that I am curious when others do not. I noticed students adverse to activity were either unskilled ("I can't do it"), obstinate ("I won't do it"), or fearful (I'm afraid to do it"). I have always been skilled at getting others involved and have always used this skill to assist my students. I am not concerned with the natural athletes. In fact, it is them I demand the most social emotional maturity from. In effect, students adverse to activity, also had either a diagnosed barrier to learning, behavioral issues, or were under academic monitoring/support. This was no coincidence. I began working with these students on developing one skill of their choice: throwing a ball, running faster, completing an obstacle course, etc. As each achieved their goal, and each did, they became open to new goals. Their demeanor and attitude began to change and their overall attitude improved. I was inspired by this and began further research into motivation and attitude. This was not a new area for me as I completed a Master of Science degree in Sport and Exercise Psychology seven years prior. During the ideation phase, I added teaching Kindergarten to my schedule and encouraged my colleagues to do so as well. We had a gift being educators in a KG to grade 12 school and I felt we should all explore working with other age groups. Needless to say, the others were not interested in leaving their comfort zone. In fact, some were genuinely fearful of working with our youngest students. the ECE students. I, on the other hand, enjoyed teaching KG and the grade twelve in back to back sessions. They would often play the same game or work on the same skill, yet with different outcomes in mind. This experience proved to me that all children can love a physical challenge and love to achieve a goal. The challenge was in getting to students early enough in their educational career to lay the foundation for this level of confidence and open mindedness. It is important to note here that I was unable to work with the ECE students in this school because the ECE Director did not want to add it to the curriculum. My philosophy of delivering quality PE as early as possible in schooling was born. My next role was writing Physical Education curriculum and supporting Physical Educators for the government schools in Abu Dhabi. In this capacity, I encountered Perceptual Motor Programs and realized the development of coordination, balance, locomotor skills, and fitness must be the focus in the Early and Primary years. Hence the birth of a non-profit organization designed to offer quality PE sessions to children in Early Years Programs. I was next lucky to encounter an International School with the desire to offer PE to their students beginning with Little Dragons at age two. A full scale program for students from age two through age seven was launched and the rest, as they say, is history.

Tell us more about you (3000 characters)

In addition to my path to here detailed in the response above, I love working in the early childhood space because of the students. With no preconceived notions and little fear, they are willing to try anything. They are inherently ready to move and need to move on a regular basis. Every piece of equipment is exciting and a wonder to them. My favorite activity is to put out equipment and let them do with it whatever inspires them. We have many limits and prescribe many activities for children. "Let me show you" and "this is how we do it" are diminishing the free thinking abilities of our young people and they truly need significant time to explore. There is such a wide range of attitudes amongst young children. There are children it is easy to see have everything done for them at home. These contrast greatly with those that are already developing a sense of independence and are risk takers. It is wonderful to have focused time to work with both types and consider where might they be later without the opportunity to explore their physical environment. It is exciting to present them with a cross pattern walking activity and actually watch their brain struggle with the notion until the skill is initiated and continually practiced to automaticity. It should be noted here that automaticity takes years to accomplish, and is in fact, never truly a completed process. Therein lies the argument for quality physical education throughout a childs' academic career until the desire and ability for regular physical activity is instilled in each one.

Do you have the people and partners you need to do what you’ve described? (600 characters)

I do not yet have all the partners required to launch this idea. I have professionals ready to be trained to deliver the program. I also have school leaders ready to add the program to their curriculum. However, I lack the funding and financial support to truly launch a full scale marketing campaign. I would love to be connected with funding organizations that believe in health, fitness and movement for all children.

As you consider your next steps, what kinds of help could you use? Is there a type of expertise that would be most helpful? (1800 characters)

We would love to connect with individuals offering similar initiatives. Anything targeting physical literacy or health/fitness would be a fruitful alliance. In addition, anyone who has launched a truly innovative idea and secured funding is a welcome connection. Of course anyone with any feedback or pointed questions is extremely welcomed.

Would you like mentoring support?

  • Yes

If so, what type of mentoring support do you think you need? (1200 characters)

I would appreciate support analyzing feasibility and viability for this program. I have considered several models, yet the overall goal is to get equipment and activities into schools with as much disruption to each schools status quo as possible. Additionally, assistance with a business plan and funding ideas would be wonderful as I am new to the non-profit world.

Are you willing to share your email contact information submitted on OpenIDEO with Gary Community Investments?

  • Yes, share my contact information

What is your stage of development?

  • Early Stage Innovator, with at least one-year experience in ECD


  • Non - Profit

Select an Innovation Target

  • Service: A new or enhanced service that creates value for end beneficiaries.

Are you willing to share your email contact information submitted on OpenIDEO with Gary Community Investments?

  • Yes, share my contact information

[Optional] Biography: Upload your biography. Please include links to relevant information (portfolio, LinkedIn profile, organization website, etc).

Sandra is an energetic, motivated, and flexible mother, educator, and athlete committed to assisting others. Highly cognizant of the importance of educating the whole person and the significance of movement experiences towards developing the ability to learn, she developed a non-profit to assist schools in providing quality Physical Education experiences to all children.
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Attachments (9)

Proposal ISD.pdf

Proposal detailing program budget, goals, and scope of work.

all PMP activities 1.pdf

basic eye hand coordination activity

all PMP activities 2.pdf

basic fitness activity

all PMP activities 3.pdf

basic balance activity

all PMP activities 4.pdf

basic locomotion (obstacle course) activity

all PMP activities 97.pdf

advanced coordination activity

all PMP activities 98.pdf

advanced fitness activity

all PMP activities 99.pdf

advanced balance activity

all PMP activities 100.pdf

advanced locomotion (obstacle course) activity


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