If you’ve followed the work of MSFG, you will know by now that girls love swings. But why are they so important?
Humans of all ages are biologically programmed to love swinging (ha ha yes not that kind… get used to that in this article). The calming, rocking sensation has been linked to the kind of pre-birth movement we experienced in the womb. Getting scientific, it’s the “vestibular stimulation” in our inner ear that makes us feel good when swinging - it’s why we rock babies to soothe them.
A 2-month long study carried out in 2017 on women aged18-30, looked at the effects of vestibular stimulation (swinging!) on the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome. It was found to reduce depression and anxiety scores, pain scores, cortisol (stress hormone) levels and blood pressure. Social relationship and psychological domain scores, as well as spatial and verbal memory were improved. So, swinging can relieve the symptoms of PMS, which are particularly nasty when you first start your periods.
In 2014,a behavioural investigation of children’s preferences was conducted in a new playground in New Zealand. Play spaces were divided into three areas; A, B, and C (shown in figure 1). Area A included a horizontal track ride, monkey bars, balancer, climbing frame, chain wall, and stepping poles. Area B contained a concrete basketball court, winding concrete paths, grass sporting areas, and a stepped concrete retaining wall. Area C contained an eagle’s nest climber and another climbing frame, as well as a double slide, seesaw, roundabout, and three swings (one infant, one child, and a large baskets wing). 14 separate observations were made between April and July 2013, totalling 10.25 hours.
Area C was the most popular area with all children, with the most preferred activity being swinging (no surprise there). Girls between 3 and 5 years old were seen mostly in Area C, but boys of this age only marginally preferred Area C to B. This same pattern was seen in children aged 9-11. This implies how important the swings were to girls.
Considerably more boys, of all ages, used Area B. It was found that boys showed a strong preference for sporting activities and tended to dominate the concrete plays paces. In area B, boys were 2.11 times more likely to use the concrete court spaces for playing basketball and 2.21 times more likely to use footpaths for sports.
Girls were more often seen to use equipment in areas A and C for socialising. In area A, girls between 12 and 14 years were often seen sitting on the platforms and chatting or texting but not actually playing with the equipment. This highlights a need for research on ways to involve older girls in playgrounds.
So perhaps it is the social nature of swings that is so appealing to girls, particularly teenagers.
Many studies have found that girls of all ages tend to exhibit more pro-social behaviours (positive, helpful, and intended to promote social acceptance and friendship) than boys. Girls also tend to form more intimate and close friendships than boys, who often play in larger groups. Swings side by side, or swings that allow multiple occupants facilitate girls socialising in this more intimate way. Especially valuable for teenage girls, who rely heavily on sharing personal experiences and thoughts with friends, at such a crucial time in their development of self-identity.
To conclude, we NEED more data into what girls, particularly teenage girls, like about swings and why. By generating this, we can actually provide spaces that are attractive to them and that cater to their needs. Provision of swings that allow more than one person in, such as basket swings or hammock swings, provide the social element that seems to be more important to girls. These should be prioritised in our playgrounds! The act of swinging could also be helpful in reducing PMS symptoms in teenage girls, which in turn can have positive impact on their social interactions. Most importantly – we need to ASK girls what they want to see in their parks.
I shall leave you with a picture of my 56-year-old Mum having a great time on a swing –maybe we need to extend the age bracket for our research...!