At Forest School,It’s More Than Just a Swing

by | Nov 16, 2020

“Imagination is the source of all human achievement.”- Sir Ken Robinson

“Children develop in particular patterns. For example, they have to be able to sit up by themselves before they can crawl and eventually walk. Same is true for how they develop their handwriting skills. Tearing, cutting and scribbling occur way before the child is able to write. They have to develop their fine motor muscles in their hands before they are able to grasp a pencil and make legible symbols or letters.

Similar to learning to cut with scissors before being able to write their name, children need lots of unstructured play to benefit their developing brain (Heck- we could all use more play in our lives!) All of these activities are beneficial to the development of mind. When a learner is playing, they are using their body in a healthy way. As they play in nature, they are sending oxygen to their muscles while at the same time producing endorphins that have positive effects on their mood and activity level. Developing a strong sensory system creates a foundation for more complex learning later in life.

With so much technology consuming much of their day, children do not have as many opportunities to develop the vestibular (balance), tactile (touch) and proprioceptive (helping us move through space and move our bodies effectively) areas of their brain. Unstructured play at Forest School allows these important systems to develop.

Swinging is one of the best activities for learners to develop their sensory system. This is the system that allows us to regulate our bodies when the environment is loud, quiet, has a strange smell, etc. It allows us to cope in a variety of different situations.

Other benefits of swinging include:

  • Swinging can be soothing as well as fun.
  • Swinging is calming.
  • Swinging encourages social interaction and development, such as turn taking and line management.
  • Building a rope swing takes problem solving, teamwork, coordination and persistence.
  • Swinging increases spatial awareness.
  • Swinging helps develop gross motor skills—pumping legs, running, jumping.
  • Swinging helps develop fine motor skills—grip strength, hand, arm and finger coordination.
  • Swinging develops a learner’s core muscles and helps with the development of balance.
  • Spinning on a rope swing stimulates different parts of a learner’s brain simultaneously. This is important for learning skills such as spatial awareness, rhythm and balance and muscle control.” (Michigan State University)

This past week, swinging was at the center of our play. But at Forest School, we prefer to level up from a traditional swing set to something that offers more opportunity for divergent thinking. Here, we make our own rope swings out of rope, branches and some super creative learners. What started out as building a single rope swing earlier in the week ended up becoming a 3-piece gymnasium, all designed, engineered and maintained by the learners.

aishling forest school, forest school, rope swingHere’s what went down, as their rope swing dreams came to life:

  1. We need more rope. Collectively, they decided to unknot the rope bridge that was previously built. But they only took 1 rope down, so the other learners could still play on the bridge if they wanted to. These are compassionate and considerate engineers.
  2. Now- they needed to find the right rope swing tree. They wondered, “What kind of tree will work best? A tree with a big branch- one not near the road and one that is alive. How can we tell that it’s alive? Does it have leaves?” Together, they brainstormed and collaborated.
  3. Now that a suitable tree has been located…what’s next? They needed to figure out how to get the rope over the branch. One strong learner climbed the tree but couldn’t get high enough to loop the rope over. They then used a shimmy method; one they decided felt like pulling on a horse’s reins. Almost there- but not quite. We needed a boost. With some teamwork and grit, they got the rope over the branch.
  4. Next up- making the swing…but how? What kind of leverage do we need? We need to tie one end of the rope to something sturdy. But it didn’t quite reach. They needed an alternative plan and some strong knots. After some trial and error, they secured one end of the rope. And then the mentors modeled how to knot on a rope swing branch as a seat.
  5. Time to test their creation. Woohoo- what fun! Until…the rope started to slide down. They learned through experimentation that they had too much weight on one end. What could they do to add weight to the other side to keep the swing from falling to the floor?
  6. One thoughtful learner decided to make not 1 but 2 rope swings and to create a partner system where 2 swingers went at once, balancing each other out. The learners partnered up based on estimated weights and created dueling swings- something we’ve never seen before and something more creative than we could have ever imagined. Children are magical like that and most definitely creative geniuses, as the late Sir Ken Robinson’s research revealed.
  7. Once the dueling swings were up, a crowd started to gather and our engineers were back at work figuring out a way to make a 3rd swing so that more learners could play.

What started out as a desire to swing on a rope swing turned into the design and implementation of an entire jungle gym thanks to the learner’s problem solving, teamwork, math and physics skills, determination and creativity. It was a wonder to behold their imaginations set on fire!

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