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Children and Play

Courtesy of University of Illinois—Office of Public Information

Children play hard, slow down to rest and then return to active play in 15 to 40 minute cycles, says a behavioral scientist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Michael Wade, director of the Leisure Behavior Laboratory in the UIUC Institute for Child Behavior and Development, measured the activity level of children by recording their heart rates while they played. Changes in heart rate vary directly with the amount of movement.

Three and 4 year olds wearing tiny FM transmitters on their belts played alone and in groups of two and four. The transmitters broadcast their heart beats to a receiver which kept a record of them.

By mathematical anlysis of how the rates varied. Wade discovered two cycles of activity levels. The 40-minute cycles were related to the children's psychological need for for challenge and excitement. At the end of 40 minutes, they became less active probably because they were bored. The 15 minute cycles were caused by a physical need for periods of rest.

Children, as well as adults, have a great capacity for receiving information in the form of sense impressions. When this capacity is little used, boredom results, and when too many bits of information push the capacity to its limit, withdrawal and anxiety result.

Humans and higher animals act to keep the flow of sensory input at an optimum level—not too much, which produces confusion, and not too little, which produces boredom.

The body automatically tries to achieve another optimum level, this one for physiological functions. Any changes in the environment of muscles, nerves and organs cause a reaction. If muscles contract vigorously enough to produce lactic acids and other byproducts, fatigue tends to cause less activity so that circulating blood can restore the muscles' environment to the best one possible.

Illinois Parks and Recreation 19 July/August, 1976

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