The Swing

Posted January 5, 2017

by Sarah Kern



The swing is one of the children’s favorite spots in our Boulders play space. It is a disc swing, hung from one of our favorite climbing trees. Because it is a favorite, and because it only allows for one child at a time, conflict naturally arises.

Some announce before we even get to the Boulders, “I’m going on the swing first!” and it’s often a race to the swing as soon as the gate opens. Inevitably, someone who was planning on a turn doesn’t get one as soon as he or she wanted it, and must wait.

As a teacher, it is tempting to impose MY rules on the children’s playtime. Some children even expect it.

• “How many minutes does Johnny get?”
• “Mary has had it a long time!”
• “Can it be my turn now?”

I could say, “Johnny gets it for five minutes, then Mary gets it for five minutes.” I could take the swing away when children fight over it. I could make each child get off before they are done, leaving everyone feeling dissatisfied. But what would I be taking away from the children if I did that?

It is okay – and, in fact, important – for kids to experience conflict with peers. It is part of life, and children must have the opportunity to get into it and get out of it without being rescued by an adult.

Allowing children to decide the length of their turns lets them control their playtime. It gives them the opportunity to tune into their peers’ wants and needs. It is more meaningful for Johnny to get off the swing because he knows Mary is waiting than it is for him to get off because I told him to.

This hands-off approach can be difficult for kids at first, especially for those who are used to adults swooping in as soon as conflict occurs. But with time and practice, children grow in their confidence to solve their own problems.

This practice also increases children’s intrinsic motivation – that is, their motivation that comes from within rather than for an external reward (such as praise from an adult). While extrinsic motivation can be powerful in the short-term, it is intrinsic motivation that drives children in more meaningful ways by developing their self-concept.

It’s amazing what children can do when we give them a little space to think and to solve problems on their own. I am reminded of that whenever I see the swing.