Visit any place with commercial playground equipment, whether it’s a community park or school playground, and there are sure to be children playing on the swings. But swinging is more than just a fun activity for kids—it actually has many other benefits to their physical, emotional, social, and neurological development. Kids love to swing because it is fun and feels like they’re flying, but as they pump their legs and swing, their brains and bodies are making big progress.
Here are six of the benefits of swinging:
Develops the Sensory System
The sensory system is a crucial part of the nervous system that processes sensory information, especially between the five senses and the brain. The sensory system tells the brain when you smell something, get hurt, or taste something new. Swinging is a complicated coordinated movement that often requires lots of practice for kids as they’re learning. It also involves almost all of the senses. As children learn how the swing moves and how they can sit on it and make it move, their sensory system grows.
The sensory system helps children regulate their bodies when they are faced with new stimuli. Because the swing is constantly moving, it is always changing the sensory stimulation, which leads to more development. A more developed sensory system is better able to cope when the environment is loud, has a new smell, or feels different. Swinging develops the sensory system, which then helps children learn to adapt to different sensory sensations.
A developed sensory system also helps with spatial awareness, or the ability to understand where your body is in space in relation to other people and objects. Swinging helps children’s brains organize spatial information, such as realizing where the body is in relation to its surroundings. Spatial awareness is a complex skill that children start developing early on. Swinging can increase spatial awareness and teach children how to respond and react as their body changes its location and movement. Strong spatial awareness helps children with other activities later on, such as climbing and balancing, and helps children be more agile and flexible in their movements.
Strengthens Inner Ear Balance
The repetitive back and forth motion of swinging also helps children strengthen their sense of balance, which is rooted in their ears. The vestibular sense tells children where their body is in space and how they are moving. Vestibular receptors in the inner ear are connected to the fluid in the ear canal that changes as you move. Inner ear fluid signals to the brain if the body is moving and where you are in space. Swinging helps develop the vestibular receptors and the inner ear fluid, which strengthens the connection between the ear and the brain for a better sense of balance.
When children have a strongly developed ability to sense how their body is moving and balanced, it leads to better hand-eye coordination and stronger muscles. Inner ear balance and a strong vestibular sense leads to stronger body awareness, which is a vital skill for children. Body awareness helps them realize how their body is moving and where it is in space and in relation to other people and items.
Swinging is especially beneficial for children with sensory processing disorders, which typically occur when the vestibular system doesn’t communicate correctly with the rest of the body. In these cases, extra attention and exercises are often needed to strengthen the inner ear balance and vestibular sense. It’s common for occupational therapists and other professionals to recommend children with sensory processing disorders spend more time swinging to develop their balance, which is why indoor and outdoor swings are commonly used in therapeutic settings.
Calms Nerves and Anxiety
There’s a reason babies love to be rocked back and forth—the repetitive motion is calming and can lull them into relaxation. That sensation doesn’t go away as kids get older, which means swinging can help kids feel calmer. One of the biggest therapeutic benefits to swinging is that it can help calm nerves or anxiety. It is regularly used as part of treatment for depression and anxiety in children.
Swinging also increases the blood flow to the brain, which helps kids focus and pay attention. Numerous studies have found that kids focus better in school after they have been out at recess. A large part of that is due to more blood pumping to their brains, which comes from activities like swinging. The effects of swinging are long-lasting: just 15 minutes of swinging can help the brain perform better for up to eight hours.
Regular swinging has even been linked to better sleep. The repetitive movement helps balance the neurological activity in the brain, which can help kids calm down faster when it is time to sleep and get better sleep throughout the night. Instead of their mind constantly running, swinging helps train the brain to calm down for a more restful night’s sleep.
Develops Motor Skills
Swinging is a relatively difficult skill when compared to other things kids do on the playground, like running, jumping, and climbing. But as children learn to swing and improve their skills, they are developing fine and gross motor skills that are crucial for their future development. The developmental benefits of swinging are unmatched by any other activity.
Gross motor skills allow kids to do things involving large muscles in their body. These skills are developed by swinging actions like pumping legs and running and jumping to the swings. Gross motor skills help develop muscle strength. As kids push their friends on the swing, they build muscles in their arms and legs. As they hold themselves balanced on the swing, they strengthen their core. These muscles are crucial in other movements and in creating healthy habits and an active lifestyle.
Fine motor skills involve smaller muscles and movements. When children swing, they do things like hold onto the swing and move their hands and fingers to climb on the swing. These actions develop smaller muscles in the hands, which help with important skills like holding a pencil and working with small items.
Stimulates Brain Development
Swinging is an action that can’t be easily replicated, unlike running or jumping. There are so many factors that go into swinging, such as balancing on the swing, holding on tight with your hands, and pumping your legs, as well as the sensory stimulation of moving back and forth and seeing things from a new perspective. With all of these considerations, swinging stimulates parts of the brain that few other activities can. And when many parts of the brain are stimulated at once, it leads to tremendous growth.
Swinging works the brain in a way that can’t be replicated with other activities, especially in the classroom. An adult can’t simply tell a child how to swing and have them know how to do it. To truly learn to swing, a child has to sit on a swing and do it themselves, often by experimenting with different movements and actions. Successful swinging requires a variety of motions and parts of the body working together. The process of figuring out how to move and the rhythm to swing successfully is not only a proud movement from kids when they figure it out—it is also strong development for the brain. The brain is firing on all cylinders as children move different parts of their bodies and figure out how to swing on their own. Even after children have figured it out, the regular motion and concentration it takes to get the swing moving and keep it going help the brain work in a unique way. Regular swinging leads to brain development that can’t occur with most other activities.
Triggers Social Development
Swinging also helps children learn social skills in a new way. They learn to take turns for the swings, push their friends on the swing, and encourage other children as they learn to swing. Swinging is best learned by doing, and children can be the best teachers and encouragers to their peers. As different children play on the swings, children learn to interact with new people and adapt to changing situations.
Unstructured free play outside helps children learn to interact with each other. They work together as they play and also develop imaginative skills as they create games and stories together. Swings can be a cornerstone of creativity and social growth for children.
Swinging is more than just a popular playground activity—it is a crucial part of a child’s development. The many developmental and therapeutic benefits of swinging go just beyond getting physical activity to stimulating brain development and building powerful internal systems that will benefit children throughout their entire lives.