Where Have All the Swing Sets Gone?

As I visit preschools and observe children playing outside I am continually reminded that the swing set that was once a staple on every playground is now absent. Swing sets seem to be disappearing like dinosaurs of an era long gone—they are becoming extinct!

I’ve heard the reasons. Children can pinch their fingers while grasping the chain; other children can run in front of a child swinging and get hurt; swings present a safety hazard on the playground. Strict federal guidelines, state licensing and the insurance costs make it impossible to keep swings where they once were. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission Handbook for Public Playground Safety requires that swings be set apart from any other structure, with a clearance both in front and back equal to twice the height of the swings, and six feet of clearance on either side. That’s sometimes most of the space in a typical preschool playground! And the standards also call for costly new playground surfacing beneath swings to cushion falls. There are certainly unsafe swing sets out there but to totally eliminate them has created some unexpected developmental delays for many children. Swing sets are being torn down but nothing is being erected in their place that offers the same contributions to a child’s physical, cognitive and social development.

When a child is swinging, both the vestibular system and proprioceptive system are being activated. The vestibular system is comprised of several structures in the inner ear. When the head tilts in any direction fluid moves small hairs within the structures and their movement lets us know our position in relation to the earth’s gravity. This is how we know when we are in motion. The proprioceptive system gathers information from the muscles and joints to tell us our body position and posture. Swinging naturally helps children to develop balance and coordination. The visual connection between vestibular and proprioceptive systems is also developed through swinging, as swingers use visual cues to adjust their balance and movement. The influence of these systems plays a major role in the developmental milestones of sensory processing and gross motor skills for children. And let’s not forget the relationship between swinging and social development. Whoever thinks that swings don’t promote cooperation never heard best friends say, “I’ll push you, if you push me.”

Do the benefits of swings outweigh the risks?

11 thoughts on “Where Have All the Swing Sets Gone?

  1. Yes, the benefits of swings outweigh the risks! But, then, what would you expect a fellow physical activity specialist to say? : )Congratulations on the new blog, Sharron. You’re offering readers some pretty wonderful information!

  2. I teach creative movement in my preschool. I incorporate warm-up motions, vigorous motion and cool-down time in every class session for 2 and up.I agree swinging benefits outweigh risks, but many hands are tied on directors’ levels regarding installation at preschool. Perhaps a brief article that could be republished for parents, encouraging them to take children to parks, would be a meaningful endeavor.I would like to see a future blog on special movements for 12-24 months, as right now I am engaging them in only explorations of rhythm and hand and arm movements to go with songs.Thanks for shining a light on an undervalued part of preschool curriculum.

  3. Congratulations Sharron on the new blog site. I will certainly pass it along to the other Directors in the CNH district. I have always been a fan of tire swings in preschool play yards. The benefits are swinging there along with many added social benefits for preschoolers!!!

  4. Studies also show that swinging activates the “language” part of the brain. I’ve always had my homeschooled kids swing before doing their academic work. Being a family childcare home, we still have swings in our backyard, but we also have a swing hung up in our house with mats underneath for days when the weather limits our outdoor activities. We also “swing” kids on the parachute and we have a big swing on the front porch where we swing while we wait for moms and dads.

  5. in addition of what rainbowconnection and Sharron said swinging rhythmic is usually calming,while fast is alerting. try various types of like tireswing hammock swing and also rope and try different movements such as forward and back, side by side and untwisting after you’ve wound up the swing chains does she make eye contact? laugh? get angry? dizzy? or overstimulated? A child who is underractive to vesticular system input and begs you to push him harder and faster may unexpedtedly switch into sensory overload and have a very hard time calming down.

  6. Our 3 year old Visually Impaired child loves to swing. We installed an indoor swing in our home, so that he can swing year round. Whenever he needs a little “down time” we put him in the swing and it immediately gives him focus and fun, while getting exercise! I am glad to hear there are other benefits as well. thanks for the great article.

  7. Hi Sharron: I am so glad you have a blog spot. What is your opinion about children swinging on their stomach? Is this good? My director feels that children should only be sitting on their bottoms when they are on the swing.Thank You. Swinging is really good for the adults too! Prestigious Pat

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