That was the key question posed by Anita Bundy; Professor of Occupational Therapy at the University's the Faculty of Health Sciences, when she and her colleagues carried out an activity study of children aged five to seven at a Sydney primary school.
She and colleagues placed around the playground what they called ''loose part'' materials - cardboard boxes, hay bales, car and bicycle tyres, crates, wooden planks, garbage tin lids, lengths of tubing, pieces of foam … anything as long as it was safe and could be used in imaginative ways. They videoed the children before and after the materials were placed in the playground for 15-20 minutes each time.
The study had three parts - one measured changes in the level of playfulness among the children; the second part involved measuring levels of activity; and the third part concerned the teachers.
Professor Bundy found that over the 11 week trial period the children became significantly more playful. ''The children found the materials to be highly motivating,'' Professor Bundy says.
''The materials seemed to spark their imaginations causing them to create new games and become very active.'' In fact Professor Bundy found that children became significantly more active over the two school terms. "Their increased activity included more running, lifting, pushing and pulling of materials," she said.
Professor Bundy found that teaches commented on the children's increased imagination, activity levels, and resilience and on a reduction in their aggressive behaviour.
"Even though the study was small, it paves the way for further exploration. It also adds to the research around approaches to increasing activity levels and social skills in children to ward off overweight and bullying, said Professor Bundy.