September 24, 2015 Mary & Suzanne

Park Swings: 4 Ways to Use Them (therapeutically!)

Flying through the air, floating weightless in the water, and laughing until milk comes out your nose  – can anyone think of moments more carefree than these?  Few things in life can hold a candle to that feeling of gliding through the air on park swings. (If you disagree with us already, check out our post on what to do if your child avoids swings like their plate of broccoli!) Most parks have swings, which is fantastic because they fill an essential role in providing vestibular (movement) sensation. We love to start a therapy session at the park with swinging, when possible. Why are we so keen on vestibular sensation? We make it a priority because it provides information to the brain that supports the development of:

Acceleration on the swings literally wakes the child’s brain up and gets him ready to improve processing of sensory information, learn new skills, and have a blast at the park!

Here are our 4 basic swing favorites at the park:

1. Bucket swings catch:

For little ones under 5 years old, bucket swings are perfect! The design of a bucket swing makes a child feel safe and supported and allows us to play games that require free hands to catch a ball or throw a bean bag into a target.

Engage with your child through songs, imagination, and gestural exchanges. Create a story about a hungry alligator (the target bin) who loves to eat jellybeans, spaghetti and stinky socks (Use the color of the bean bags to think of silly foods that might match their colors!). As your child flies through the air, he drops the food, one by one, into the alligator’s mouth! Using your hands to pretend to nip at your child’s toes in between snacks can be a fun way to get the giggles going too!

2. Sitting on the strap swings:

Graduation to strap swings happens once a child is able to adjust her body to stay upright and safe in response to the swing moving. Start with a slowly moving swing to make sure everyone feels confident and happy about the experience. Please use caution to avoid pushing your child past her limit, and creating fear associated with swings. The benefits of flying thought the air (vestibular movement) are huge, but don’t rush into it. It’s much harder to convince your child to try swinging after a scary experience, than it is to get her up and moving with the joyful memories of swinging in the bucket swing. We want children to love swings! Consider it fuel for the body and mind!

Swinging can be an experience that helps children take a deep breath. The smooth, linear rhythmicity can create feelings of calm, relaxation, and organization. Swinging can also jump start the mind and body to be ready for adventure! Our little snorkeler is ready to take on the Barrier Reef. Holding bean bag “fish” with his feet, and dropping them into his fish bucket can add wonderful body awareness, visual-motor and coordination challenges!

3. Learning to pump strap swings:

This is a tricky one to learn but children love the feeling of mastering pumping their own swing! There are so many strategies out there to work on this multi-step sequence! Getting the swing moving allows the child to begin to feel the rhythm, so start by giving your child a gentle push at his back, or at the bottoms of his feet (while his legs are fully extended). The next step might take a little breaking apart, so be patient! Coordinating the upper body and lower body movements can be a lot to take on at once, so teaching them individually might help. For a complete, play by play of how to teach your child to pump a swing, check out this great post from’s Preschoolers Expert Amanda Rock! 

4. Tummy swinging on strap swings:

Laying on your tummy on a strap swing is an entirely different experience! If you haven’t tried it, we highly recommend testing it out! Children try out this position for a variety of reasons. Some prefer it because they don’t feel comfortable sitting upright just yet. Others love the intensity they feel when their heads tip below the rest of their bodies. Another group prefers staying low and in contact with the ground, having full control of their movement. If your child doesn’t naturally try  laying on his belly on a swing, see if you can encourage this for a bit of time. Children can get their own swing moving by pushing their feet on the ground, or help them out by holding their hands and slowly pull them forward a bit. Then count down from 3, and let go! Keeping eyes forward and head up will keep your child safe and secure from rolling forward off of the swing.  If a child seems to have good balance reactions, placing a ball near the swing for him to hit as he swings toward it, or bean bags to pick up is a great way to expand the fun! Adding little challenges such as these develop skills, encourage problem solving and patience,  and build confidence with new accomplishments!

Swing basics are hugely important to laying a foundation for processing movement (vestibular) sensations. These ideas seem simple, but don’t let the term ‘basic’ fool you! The sensations pack a big punch in terms of how they can affect development!

Ready to step it up a bit? Feeling adventurous and playful? Check out these clever swing games, brought to you by The Inspired Treehouse!  We especially love going against “playground rules” and spinning on swings!

We get goose bumps thinking about all of the possibilities that swings can provide for a growing child! Relax, sing, spin, and fly on swings together! They truly are fun for the whole family! See you at the park!

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