Children are (not) just swinging and sliding!
Updated: Nov 21, 2020
We commenced operations in March 2019 from the beautiful space of the Vidya Bhawan Society's campus. The kindergarten at Vidya Bhawan was originally designed by the legendary Maria Montessori which had two beautiful concrete slides. Our children loved using these slides and we observed a lot of social and physical developmental needs being met as a result of these slides present on campus.
However, when we shifted to our current location in the garden of my home didn't have the luxury to place a big slide. We still had a small plastic slide that was used by children in multiple ways. At that point in time, although we were fully aware of the rich benefits that children naturally derive from swinging and sliding, we concluded that children can perhaps access play equipment elsewhere.
Since we are a closely knit community, it was easy for us to ensure that all children have frequent and unrestricted access to play equipment. Hence, due to paucity of space- in the tradeoff between work tables vis-a-vis swings and slides, we chose to vote in favour of work tables.
Swinging and sliding are often perceived as "non-productive" work by adults. What if we knew that it is the swinging and sliding that helps develop the vestibular system, and therefore children’s sense of balance. Uninterrupted play on slides and swings allows children to develop their vestibular system, in vertebrates, which is part of their inner ear. This system is responsible for our balance and the sense of touch. It also develops the proprioceptive system, which is our system of tendons, muscles and joints.
Before children walk, they crawl. Before children sit in classrooms, they climb, dance, swing and slide. Neuroscience tells us that swinging, sliding and climbing lead to the development of complex sensory system which is the foundation of almost everything child will do later in life, including sitting on desks for writing.
In many pre-schools and households, swinging and sliding are used and seen as a recreational activity. However, one may be surprised to know that they are the most majestic educational tools. You may wonder how? The dictionary defines education as acquisition of
beliefs and positive habits.
When slides and swings are used in a true play setting, swinging and sliding teaches children-
the skill of perseverance;
the skill to solve problems;
self-teach the skill of impulse control;
taking risk successfully and it leads to self-confidence;
to communicate well.
The Covid-19 pandemic is unprecedented and we recognize that childhood is only a small window of opportunity to build a foundation for the integration of all senses. In the current absence of access to parks and play equipment, we, at Sahaj, thought it was inevitable for us to make space and invest in a slide structure and a swing for children. We had to make a decision. We had to find space for the most essential equipment that is responsible for the vestibular as well as proprioception sensory development in children. So, we commenced our work to make space and procure the swing set. We cleared the garden space of work tables and shifted those to our semi-outdoor space. We made space for the pendulum of the swing. Also, for a big slide.
While it was easy to source a swing, we were increasingly finding it difficult to procure a slide for our community. We have limited financial resources and we wished to save our community’s resources. But, as Rumi says, “You walk the path, the path appears.” While we were persistently searching from all vendors for the best possible price quotation, one day, it occurred to us that there was an old slide lying in a dilapidated condition lying at a small family land of ours.
We retrieved the slide, got it repaired and installed it in our community space and hence saving a huge chunk of our community's financial resources. While on one hand, we managed to save our resources, on the other hand, we modelled the critical life lesson on upcycling.
When the slide arrived, there were children sliding on it, there were conflicts, and resolutions. If two children engaged in a problem of who will slide first, they also reached a compromise by deciding to slide together. Sometimes, they devised a plan to take turns.
We are soon realizing that slide is acting as a launch pad for developing social and physical skills.
At Sahaj, we hold our breaths every time we see children come up with an idea that we never imagine will happen. While we were contemplating buying monkey bars on request from a child, we had never imagined that the underneath of the slide will be used as monkey bars as well as a climbing structure.
While we had imagined children will attempt to swing while standing, we had never imagined, children will invent a totally new way to swing by running and landing on the swing on their stomach and swinging. It is these moments that children make us feel so small with their actions, which might look spontaneous at first, but, on closer inspection, we realize that it is in these very moments that we witness a well thought out plan which has visualization, thoughtful planning and execution involved.
There were failed attempts to roll down a tyre, there were assisted attempts where tyres were rolled and then, there were unassisted successful attempts of rolling huge car tyres down the slide. In our focus on what is considered productive and non-productive, we have completely lost our commitment to the child in front of us. Before a child learns to write, a child needs ample time to develop her core muscle strength and be persistent towards achieving her goal.
Many of us understand that perseverance is the core life readiness skill that lays the foundation for an independent, successful and happy adult in future. Most of us also understand that childhood needs to safeguarded for a strong foundation. And, yet, our puritanical attitudes triumph over research, intuition and facts.
We had never anticipated that our humble slide will be ever used to understand the complex law of physics and yet by rolling down the tyre, children were experimenting with force and movement. When we see children benefiting from not only the obvious physical development, but, the slide & swing benefitting the whole child development, we now embrace our error of judgement.
It took a pandemic to make us realize that sliding and swinging are indeed as productive as perhaps exploring clay, painting or craft. If we have to create pre-schools for the holistic development of children, in a tradeoff between desk jobs and a slide structure, one must always choose the latter. The unpresuming slide and the soothing rhythmic push of the swing have the potential to hit multiple targets of early education at the same time.
Once schools reopen, we need to create a “new better normal”. Our decisions should be based on what neuroscience has been telling us all along. We can no longer afford to go back to the old normal.
In the new world, we will need uninterrupted access to swinging and sliding because if we start emphasizing on the delayed opportunities to practice the desk jobs of writing, we might lose a once in a lifetime opportunity to strengthen the core muscles which is the foundation for a healthy physical as well as emotional well-being. We often wonder how misplaced our judgement was back in 2019 when we anticipated that sliding and swinging can perhaps take place in a playground and we need to have desks instead.
As teachers and parents, we need to defend early years; the time to embrace sliding and swinging as the educational tools of early years education has arrived.