by Amy Wagenfeld, Affil. ASLA, PhD, OTR/L, SCEM, FAOTA
I have been thinking about swings lately, weighing the risk factors now associated with their installation in playspaces with the benefits they provide to motor and sensory development. I have also been wondering what others think about them. As a Professional Practice Network (PPN), we reached out to readers via ASLA, the Therapeutic Landscapes Network, the American Occupational Therapy Association’s social media sites, and to friends to gather some insights.
What about swings? They can provide therapeutic benefit for some children (and adults). The sensory systems most activated when swinging, gliding, or rocking include the vestibular, proprioceptive, and to a lesser extent the tactile. Here is how they contribute to overall sensory enrichment:
Vestibular: refers to the balance system. Located in the middle ear, the vestibular system responds to the position of the head in relation to gravity and movement and helps keep us from becoming dizzy. Our vestibular systems get a work out with the varied planes of movement a swing make take- front and back, side to side, circular, or up and down.
Proprioception/Kinesthesia: located in the muscles and joints, the proprioceptive system provides awareness of where our bodies are in space. When swinging, proprioception and kinesthesia help us understand the relationship of our bodies to the seat, sides, and back of the swing, and to know where to sit or lay on the swing without falling off.
Tactile: refers to the sense of touch. We make contact with and touch swings by potentially using all body parts, depending on whether sitting or lying down.