The concept of “friluftsliv literacy” in relation to physical literacy in physical education pedagogies | A summary

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Idar Lyngstad & Eivind Sæther
Nord University, Norway


In recent decades there have been advancements in and diversification of the understanding of physical literacy in physical education pedagogies. Physical literacy has developed in various directions in the research literature since Margaret Whitehead introduced the concept in 1993. International interest in physical literacy has been maintained since it was introduced and this has contributed to developing physical education pedagogy from its common, rather limited role as a mere servant of sports development and also improved its effectiveness as an agent of life-long engagement in healthy, enjoyable, meaningful physical activities, physical experience, and learning.

Interestingly, the research literature makes few attempts at elaborating on physical literacy in the context of outdoor education – or friluftsliv – in natural environments. In brief, friluftsliv relates to moving and being moved in nature over a specified period of time, changing one’s environment and having experiences of nature. It is also interesting that the physical literacy discourse in the literature does not draw on many perspectives on fostering physical literacy in a context of nature and for an environmentally sustainable future, especially in our present times of climate change. Brymer et al. (2019) argue that the call for reinvigorating the realization that human beings are part of nature has grown louder. One of the triggers for this seems to be related to two big and urgent issues. These are the health and well-being of humans and the state of the natural world. The aim of our study is therefore to examine the term friluftsliv in a Norwegian context in relation to physical literacy in physical education pedagogies and answer the following question: How can friluftsliv broaden the understanding of physical literacy in physical education pedagogies in a useful way?

With the intention to answer the question, we outline aspects of ‘friluftsliv literacy’ and present an analysis of data from a study of experiences of the friluftsliv subject taken by students in a upper secondary school in Norway that offers a three-year friluftsliv education program. Using data from this investigation we answer the following question: How can upper secondary school students’ experiences of friluftsliv help to articulate key aspects of ‘friluftsliv literacy’?

Two main themes emerged from the data, which we use to articulate aspects of ‘friluftsliv literacy’. These are (1) experience of nature, sense of fellowship, and understanding of democracy, and (2) identity formation, self-esteem, self-confidence, and views on the students’ future life.

The students relate that the friluftsliv trips have had an emotional impact on them, that nature gives experiences, and that this takes place in a fellowship where the participants show much trust in each other. The analysis of the data reveals that friluftsliv relates to students’ sense of self in the way it promotes self-confidence in the same way as physical activity per se relates to students’ sense of self. This finding in the analysis is in line with the notion of physical literacy, which outlines that students will come to learn something about themselves as movement subjects. However, the students do not only learn to master various movement skills in friluftsliv, but will come to learn something about themselves as subjectsin nature.

Additionally, the students experience social collaboration processes and learn about democratic principles in fellowship with others. They experience that it requires the ability to cooperate and reflect on what one’s own contributions and efforts mean for the development of each student and the group on a friluftsliv trip.

The analysis of the students’ statements also indicates that friluftsliv experiences can become markers in the life histories of young people, i.e. experiences that promote personal development processes and are constructive for identity formation. The analysis reflects that friluftsliv may provide personally relevant learning in activities that make connections between what is learned, why it is of value, and how it applies to young people’s lives beyond the activity setting.

Key points of the analysis are that friluftsliv adds an interesting nature element to the concept of physical literacy and that key aspects of ‘friluftsliv literacy’ support and refresh the concept of physical literacy, which draws on existential and phenomenological perspectives

Our analysis puts friluftsliv on the agenda as something that may promote attributes of physical literacy, such as identity formation, self-esteem and self-confidence. The analysis also reveals that friluftsliv have the potential to create opportunities for meaningful experiences that can ultimately contribute to human flourishing. Findings from the study also indicate that friluftsliv is a good training arena giving the opportunity to develop understanding of the values of comradeship, co-participation processes, and principles of democracy. Key points of the analysis are that friluftsliv adds an interesting nature element to the concept of physical literacy and that key aspects of ‘friluftsliv literacy’ support and refresh the concept of physical literacy, which draws on existential and phenomenological perspectives. Although ‘friluftsliv literacy’ need more exploration, the concept will broaden the understanding of physical literacy in a useful way.

At the same time, it will problematize the understanding of physical literacy due to the physical literacy discourse, which needs to relate more to concerns on the environmentally sustainable future and contribute to an education that promotes outdoor education and friluftsliv. The argument for putting this forward is simply that physical education and all discourses in physical education pedagogies are parts of the same world we all are in, and physical education in school should include a nature and environmental perspective.

The analysis of the data creates some key aspects of ‘friluftsliv literacy’, for example that the students in friluftsliv do not only learn to master a number of friluftsliv skills, but they also learn something about themselves as subjects in nature, which means that an encounter with nature is more than a fleeting incident for them. It may be an important identity-formation element for their future growth and maturation. Here, the nature experience per se is a key factor. In addition, we argue that a friluftsliv literate student may be collaborative and democratic, and a potential ambassador for commitment to protecting the nature.

Copyright © Idar Lyngstad & Eivind Sæther 2021

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