Grow with flow! Flow and physical activity in young children
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This summary paper presents three different perspectives on the phenomenon of flow: theoretical and foundational, presented as an academic course; analytical, presented as a research study; and practical, as demonstrated through a physical education program plan. Flow is a universal phenomenon, that joyful feeling of total absorption in a task, one which is pursued for its own sake. Flow can be facilitated through sport and physical activity, and flow experiences are an effective way to cultivate internal resources for resilience. The purpose of the research presented herein was two-fold: to gain an understanding of children’s experiences of flow while at play, and to introduce and assess a tool for identifying the flow experiences of children in a physical activity context. While much of the widespread research on flow emphasizes performance outcomes and focuses on adult populations, the current study centers on the phenomenological experiences of kids in a kindergarten physical education (PE) class with a view toward a better understanding of those experiences as a way to inform the design of PE programs and activities. Furthermore, the study explores the links between flow theory, resiliency domains, and executive function skills. The study itself is grounded in the principals of phenomenology and pragmatic inquiry, using observational data collected using an adapted tool called the Flow Indicators in Recreational Sport and Play. This data collection tool was supplemented with reflective drawings and teacher interviews. Qualitative data analysis and descriptive coding highlighting themes were the methods used to analyze the information. The findings indicate that flow-related behaviours are observable in a group of children engaged in a purposefully-designed, schoolbased PE activity, and that flow indicating behaviours emerged and retreated over the course of the activity; peer interaction contributed to enjoyment and the emergence of flow indicators; having a clear goal, story, or challenge to be a part of contributed enjoyment and the emergence of flow indicators; and perceived effort contributed to whether the activity was deemed fun or not. The imperative to encourage life-long physical activity is less a problem to be solved than a call to action – an effort to promote effort; a movement to promote movement – because so much is at stake when we lose the connection between our bodies, our minds, and our spirits. This study highlights opportunities to embed concepts from flow theory into program development, as a way to encourage a lifelong commitment to an active, rather than passive, physical and mental life.