Swinging Into Versatility

Deanna Macioce, MS, OTR/L

Being a pediatric therapist opens the door to working in a variety of treatment environments. For some, it is a large open clinic filled wall to wall with equipment; for others it is whatever space can be salvaged in a school setting; and for still others it is a home or hospital setting. Regardless, therapy sessions tend to include a lot of fun-based activities that use a wide variety of toys and therapeutic equipment. If the therapy space has the ability to use suspended equipment, the questions become, What pieces are essential to the therapy session? and Which swing or swings should you choose?

Most therapists would agree that three classic, essential pieces of suspended equipment will help you achieve a variety of sensory and therapeutic needs. These are the Platform Swing, the Net Swing and the Bolster Swing. All three of these help to address the sensory needs of vestibular input. However, based on how you position the child or set up the activity, they can also offer other therapeutic benefits.

  • The Platform Swing. This swing is great in any treatment environment because it offers a variety of ways to address different clinical needs. In terms of positioning, it can be used with a child placed in sitting, high-kneel or prone position. With the addition of vestibular input, either linear or rotational, the sitting and high-kneel positions help improve core strength because the child has to maintain balance while the swing is in motion. In prone, this swing provides a wider base of support, allowing our weaker children more security and requiring less work of those extensors during activity. When working with smaller children, this is a swing that offers the opportunity for the therapist to sit with the child.

    Because of the support of the platform bottom, this swing offers an ideal space for a child to hang out and do an activity such as a puzzle. With the change of position during the task, the little amounts of movement will help improve balance. Or you can increase the challenge and have the child toss an object at a target while the swing is in motion. In addition, you can make it a mobile fort or rocket ship, creating a small space by draping a blanket over the top.
  • The Net Swing. This is ideally used with a child in the prone position, but can also be used in the upright sitting position. In prone, children are challenged to use their extensor muscles, strengthening their head and neck muscles. In addition, when they use their own arms to manipulate movement, they are receiving a great deal of proprioceptive input while strengthening their shoulder stability. By adjusting the height of the swing, the challenge and input varies. Children can work on obtaining objects from the floor, such as puzzle pieces, Mr. Potato Head® pieces, or pegs that then are placed into the toy. By changing the position of the toy, the challenge and focus changes again. Having children knock down bowling pins, either with their hands or their feet, addresses hand-eye coordination as well.

    Bilateral coordination and strengthening can be enhanced by having children pull themselves up on a rope that is stabilized by the OT, and then let go for a flying sensation. For the higher-level child, timing, sequencing and coordination can be addressed as the child enjoys linear movement, but then has to catch and toss a ball. For these activities, it is best to have the swing raised to a higher level.
  • The Bolster Swing. When you think about the bolster swing, you cannot help but be drawn to the core strengthening it provides. Whether a child sits in a straddled position or with both legs out to one side, core muscles are activated to work. Commonly referred to as the “horse” swing, balance and coordination are addressed with both linear and rotational movement. In linear swinging, having a child toss a beanbag into a barrel is a great timing and coordination task.

    This swing offers a variety of challenging tasks for your higher-level children. From having them maintain an inverted position by hanging upside down from the swing to having them side-sit to complete a target activity, these children have so many different therapeutic needs being addressed.

 So, as you are assessing your equipment needs, think about how these classic, versatile pieces can help complete any therapeutic setting.