When I was young, my mother sent me outside and I would spend HOURS swinging. I would sing, I would close my eyes to surprise myself by how high I’d gone and as I got bigger I’d challenge myself by jumping off at the highest point.
Swinging does so many good things for sensory motor development that it listing them all would make an unwieldy run-on sentence. Strength building, improving coordination, organizing the body and mind are just a few features. The full list of benefits are listed below.
Swinging is a fabulous cardio and muscle building exercise. It provides organizing vestibular stimulation. It is a chance to go outside and get some Vitamin D. It burns calories. The electronics are off. Why don’t we all go find a swing right now!
- Helps the body become comfortable to a new kind of movement
- Helps the eyes to learn how to see the world while moving around
- Rapid swinging, increases the alertness of the individual
- Slow swinging relaxes and clams the body
- When engaging with the caretaker in front of the swing, opportunities for eye contact, language and simple motor planning occur
- Holding onto the ropes strengthens the hand muscles
- Keeping upright while swinging strengthens neck and core muscles
- As pumping skills develop, motor sequencing develops
- Pumping leads to isolating different body motions in coordination with each other
- Independent swinging builds overall strength and endurance
- Once proficient, children can create new challenges such as jumping off and/or kicking balls while swinging.
Directions for learning to swing:
1. The child should be able to sit upright and hold onto the swing fairly well, so increased speed and force can be introduced.
2. Stand in front of the child so you can see the facial expression to determine the child’s comfort level. This also provides the opportunity for eye contact and more engagement.
3. Mix it up: grab the child’s feet for a moment and get the visual attention while saying some diddy such as “Are you ready, are your ready, are you READY TO GO!” That way the child can associate the words with the movement. This becomes a much more active experience for both child and caretaker. The child also feels in more control of the process.
This preschooler is able to lift both legs and exert force so her Mom can give her a big push.
Teaching the “Pumping Action”
1. Independent pumping usually does not occur immediately. It is helpful to introduce each specific movement to help establish the pattern necessary to swing independently. Have the child lift both legs when approaching (you are still standing IN FRONT OF THE CHILD).
2. When the extended feet reach you, give a push on the soles of the feet.
3. Once the child gets the hang of this and automatically lifts feet up for a push, add the instruction to bend the legs immediately after the push. This starts to automatically position the body correctly for the push pull action that the arms must do.
4. Once the child smoothly transitions from extended legs to bent legs add the command to “push and pull,” making sure the verbal command comes in sync with the body movements. (Pull as moving forward and extending legs; Push as knees bend and the child moves backwards).
Bigger Challenges for Proficient Swingers:
1. Try tossing a ball or balloon to be kicked away as they swing.
2. Allow them to jump off rather than stopping first. Encourge doing this gradually; jump off when the swing is almost stopped, next time when it is moving a little faster, etc.
1. If the child cannot pump by Kindergarten, find parks that have glider type rides. These passively provide the pumping motion the body needs to do. It helps the child feel the necessary swinging mechanics.
2. Keep working on lifting the legs for a push with each sequence.
3. Sit the child on your lap for a ride as well. As you push and pull say these words so the pattern gets internalized.
4. Allow the child to hang over the swing on the tummy and push with the feet. This give the child movement experience and some pushing practice from the ground.
5. Some children are fearful or uncomfortable with the motion of swinging. They may have very sensitive vestibular systems. Ask if the tummy or head hurts. If this is the case, seining should be introduced gradually. Add “Heavy Work- “proprioception based” activities and rolling to daily motor activities.
6. Some children do not have the strength in the arms to push and pull effectively and/or the trunk may not be strong enough to keep the necessary body motions in play. Refer to strengthening activities to help develop core and limb strength.
7. Some children struggle with the motor plan of the pumping motion. Isolating the specific movements and/or executing each motor sequence with correct timing may be difficult. Refer to motor planning strategies to help build basic foundations necessary for eventual success with swinging. Children with motor planning difficulties may need more time to learn but with patience and persistence they will. Once they do, it is a fabulous way to keep building motor planning ability. So persevere…but make sure you keep it fun!