Some of my fondest childhood memories are swinging at the park with my family and friends. I could swing for hours and hours! Years later, I still find swings enjoyable. There is something so joyous about pushing a toddler on the swings. Beyond this pure enjoyment of swinging, is there more to it? Does swinging teach us any life lessons or skills?
As it turns out, swinging on the playground may also be teaching children how to get along! A recent study by I-LABS researchers found that children who swing in sync demonstrate more cooperation. Researchers invited pairs of children who did not know each other to participate in swinging and then other tasks, such as working together to pass an object through a tricky box. Some of the children swung together in synchrony. Synchrony is moving in rhythm or in a pattern with another person. Swinging at the same time and speed as a peer, or drumming to the same rhythm as a family member are excellent examples of being in sync. While some groups experienced synchronous swinging, another group swung out of synchrony, and a third group did not swing at all.
The results are fascinating! The researchers found that the children who swung in synchrony completed the cooperation tasks more quickly than the other children. The results suggest there is something powerful about doing an activity in sync with another person. Perhaps being in sync with someone allows people to feel similar to each other, helping them to cooperate in other tasks. “Synchrony enhances cooperation, because your attention is directed at engaging with another person, at the same time,” explained Tal-Chen Rabinowitch, a researcher at I-LABS. “We think that being ‘in time’ together enhances social interaction in positive ways.”
Getting along with others is such an important skill. The results of this study suggest that we can strengthen these attitudes and skills through simple day-to-day activities. Any time a child engages in a synchronous activity with another person, they are building cooperation skills. Caregivers and teachers can encourage the development of these important life skills through activities other than swinging. Playing games, dancing, or music provide natural opportunities for synchrony. Children can play imitation games where they have to mimic and match their partner’s movements and expressions. Children can also make music with whatever objects they can find around the house. Maybe a pot and pan become a drum set or perhaps a long spoon becomes an imaginary guitar. Remember that it’s not what objects you have to play with, but how you use them. And a great way to use them is to create music!