We’ve always thought this was one of the trickiest areas when designing a commercial playground for a client.
When we go through the initial brief and discuss what the scope of the play area is to be, in 75% of cases a swing will be somewhere on that list. And you can see why – we all (well, almost all) loved our swings as children and they were probably one of the most memorable parts of oudoor playgrounds. We competed to see how high we could go and then that stomach wrenching adrenaline rush as the swing drops back down was fabulous.
If you are of a certain age it is possible that the only playground equipment available to you was the swing, and maybe a creaky old roundabout as well. Clearly today’s playgrounds have much more sophisticated and involving equipment of all types so things have definitely moved on.
So, what is our response when people ask us to include a swing in the design ?
Well, first we have to ackowlege the basis for the request – swings are fun and all children love them (but see above!)
But, there are negatives.
In no particular order we would say…
- swing frames take up a lot of space and therefore require a lot of safer surfacing. And that swing can only be used by one or two children at a time (except nest swings – see below). So you are devoting a lot of space and cost to apparatus which can’t be used by lots of people at the same time.
- it is possible that swings have more than their share of collisions. We don’t have any data on this but subjectively and anecdotally we feel it is true. Swings travel fast, so a collision between someone on a swing and another child runnning in front can be worrying. And, depending on what part of the arc the swinger is on, his or her feet could make contact with the head of the unfortunate child on the ground. Plus, for very young children, there also seems to be something confusing about the reciprocating nature of the swing’s movement. If they are savvy enough not to run in front of the swing as its coming towards them, its possible they don’t appreciate that that swing will return – so make that dash across without appreciating the consequences.
- You can’t really share a swing (except, again, see below). So if one child decides to take up his or her position and just keep on swinging (and hang the rest of them), there’s not much another child can really do about it.
So what swings can we have ?
Most of the above really applies most of all to the traditional flat swing.
But what works really well are swing frames with infant seats for the very young. OK the same problem of space usage applies but the hazards are all but removed. This is because an adult (or older child) is required to push the swing – infants can’t really make these things move on their own. So its perfect “bonding” time for the child/adult AND it ensures supervision. Perfect.
Then there are group swings, also called nest swings.
Normally made with a rope net stretched across a round, oval or square frame these nest swings allow 2 or 3 children to share the swing, so it is very social, and they do not travel so high and so fast as the old flat swing, so they are intrinsically safer.
We haven’t touched on the whole subject of accesible swings which, fortunately, are much more available now, and can be specialised for children (and adults) with all sorts of needs.