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Children Play with Their Minds and Bodies 3 Play Activities that Burn Up Energy

This is a summary of a dialog between Takeshi Asao, professor of developmental psychology at Nara Women's University, Takashi Saito, assistant professor of pedagogy at Meiji University, and Noboru Kobayashi, M.D., director of CRN.

3 Play Activities that Burn Up Energy

Kobayashi: Most types of play for children today, like reading comic books or watching cartoons, require very little physical activity. There is increasing fewer types of play in which children run, jump around, and move their bodies. From start to finish, these activities just involve the mind. Of course, the intellect and creativity are important, but play should also involve a more direct use of the energy and vitality that children have.

Saito: Having too much energy can be a big problem, not just for children, but for adults, too. Very few children nowadays seem to burn up all their energy during the day. I have a second-grader and fifth-grader. One day, I found them just standing outside our home when I returned. They told me they had been sent outside for fighting so I made them run around for a while. Sure enough, they were so tired afterwards that they fell asleep right after their bath and had no energy left to fight with each other.

Children at that age are like young animals. They are supposed to use up all the energy they have before sleeping. A long ago, children used to get so exhausted that they fall asleep without dinner or even bothering to take a bath. They just fell asleep wherever they were. These days, there aren't many elementary school children who just fall asleep anywhere. That's too bad and unfortunate for them. They don't know how good it feels to expend all your energy and then sleep like a log.

Video games don't make the entire body tired. They excite the brain and rely only on the optical nerves and fingertips so the child doesn't experience the physical pleasure of feeling moderately fatigued. It's important for the body to experience a balanced fatigue. If I had to choose, I would say that it doesn't matter what the method for achieving this is. As long as the body becomes tired and sleeps well afterwards, this does not necessarily have to be through creative play. It could be anything, like carrying heavy packages for instance.

Asao: When my son was in elementary school, he loved to dig holes. He would dig one-meter holes in the middle of a mountain road, but I used to go around filling them up because I was worried about someone falling in at night! (laugh)

Saito: That could be drudgery, depending on how you look at it. It's work that doesn't serve any purpose. But it can also become play. For human beings, the feeling of having expended all your energy is a very basic human pleasure.

Kobayashi: I often say that the feeling of having expended all your energy is what happens when the programs of the mind and body run at full capacity. When your son is running, he isn't using the same programs of his brain as when he is playing a game, but a program in a different part of the brain is working hard to keep his body moving. At the same time, the body is moving. When this happens, the person experiences the sensation of being alive. And this aids sleep, too.

Saito: I guess you have to be tired to sleep well. The stimulation and excitement that come from information in the cerebrum are not enough to produce this feeling of tiredness. It comes from the rhythm and tempo of physical movement involving the whole body.

Kobayashi: Running is rhythmical, isn't it? I used to jog and found it so much fun. It was the rhythmical movement of running that made it fun.

Saito: When I was doing research on respiration, I was asked to work on a special cultural program for NHK Education TV called "The Character Hidden in the Brain". We did an experiment that showed that rhythmical exercise stimulated the neural transmitter serotonin. The story was; "Serotonin is stimulated by repetitive movements, like walking or running, and the most typical of these is breathing." Repetitive movements like breathing produce a sense of security. The mind and body anticipate the next movement. Play also includes the sort of rhythm that comes from repetitive movement and the fun of sharing it with other people who are participating.


Takeshi Aso
Professor of Faculty of Literature at Nara Women's University
Specializes developmental psychology
Books include Miburi kara Kotoba he (From the gesture to the words)
Kodomo to Yume (Children and Dream)

Takashi Saito
Professor of Faculty of Literature at Meiji University
Specializes pedagogy
Books include Koe ni Dashite Yomitai Nihongo (Japanese phrases to read aloud)

Noboru Kobayashi
Director of The International Center for Child Study, Konan Women's University
Professor Emeritus of The University of Tokyo
President Emeritus of National Children's Hospital
Books include Human Science, Kodomo wa mirai de aru (Children are Our Future), Kodomogaku, Sodatsu sodateru fureai no kosodate (Reciprocal Development Through Child-raising).
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