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Want Kids to Cooperate?

Let Them Swing in Sync!

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Curious, Creative, Caring, and Confident™
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Turns out that swinging in unison is one of the best ways to help kids get along.
kids swinging in the late afternoon
University of Washington researchers have discovered a fascinating fact about swinging: When kids swing freely, and in unison, cooperation among them goes up. That’s because moving in sync with other children drives kids’ attention to the other child—and that “enhances social interaction in positive ways,” study coauthor Tai-Chen Rabinowitch said.

Of course, parents have known for years that as kids swing higher and higher, pumping their arms and legs, they reap huge physical, cognitive, and social benefits. Here are just a few ways swinging can boost development.

It helps:
  • strengthen growing muscles (from lifting themselves onto the swing, moving legs to move forward);
  • promote motor-skill development (gripping the chain with hands, pumping the legs);
  • improve kids’ balance (staying on the swing, understanding where one’s body is in space);
  • sharpen coordination (from using arms and legs together to propel forward);
  • foster sharing (from taking turns on the fun equipment everyone wants!);
  • encourage cooperation (pushing a friend, and then having the friend push you!); and
  • teach patience (from waiting their turn!).

In a 2017 study published in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, investigators at the University of Washington’s Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences (I-LABS) set out to find how well kids worked together after swinging in tandem.

Big gains in class?

For the study, the researchers built a swing set that would accommodate just two kids at a time. They then let four-year-old kids hop on in randomly assigned pairs, with some swinging in unison, some swinging out of sync, and others not swinging at all. Then all three groups were given activities that required the pairs to work together on a computer game that had kids push buttons simultaneously to make a cartoon figure appear, and in a game that involved two kids passing objects back and forth.

The amazing result: kids who swung in sync completed cooperation tasks faster—meaning they worked better as a team—than the children who didn’t swing in unison or didn’t swing at all.

Researchers believe the act of swinging in sync gives kids a sense that the other child is like them, and are therefore more likely to communicate and work together with the other child.

Previous studies have shown that being in sync with another person increases positive social behaviors like helping, sharing, and empathizing among young children. Those studies also indicated that being in sync with other youngsters boosts positive social behaviors, including helping, sharing, and empathy in kids.

More ways to encourage cooperation

Whether your child is more of a solo operator or someone who’s more inclined to work in groups or teams, it’s wise to nurture cooperation early. Check out these fun ideas:

  • Haul out pots and pans, toy drums, drumsticks, utensils, and shakers, and challenge little kids to keep a beat in sync with one another.
  • Play the “mirror me” game. Encourage two siblings or playmates to sit “crisscross applesauce,” watch the other child, and try to copy his moves exactly, at almost the same time.
  • Encourage your youngster to march in sync with another child.

Some of the most important life skills parents can teach their kids is how to get along, cooperate, and work well with others. As this intriguing study shows, getting kids to develop this social skill may be as easy as letting kids have fun together on a swing!