activities, tips, safety, benefits
We at the OT Toolbox, have created a series of posts about different types of therapeutic swings. A swing is more than just a fun gadget. When selecting treatment plans, it is best to understand the equipment, and treatment methods when using them. Today’s focus is on Platform Swings. We will discuss activities, tips, safety precautions, and the benefits of this type of swing. Platform swings are just one type of sensory swings in our arsenal of therapy tools!
If you have any type of suspended equipment at your disposal, it can be a great asset to your treatment. Check out this article on What to Know about Sensory Swings for a general overview.
What is a Platform Swing?
If you’ve seen a therapy space, you might be familiar with a platform swing as one of the sensory tools.
What exactly is a Platform swing? It is a suspended piece of sensory equipment, made of in the shape of a platform, or a large flat surface. A platform swing provides vestibular input and encourages righting reactions through balance training. This is a tool to target sensory modulation.
One feature of a platform swing is the actual platform, or the base where the student or child sits or lays. It is a large, sturdy, flat surface that offers a surface and allows for many positioning options for sensory activities.
A platform swing offers a variety of sensory input, based on the positioning on the swing:
- Laying prone to “fly”
- Laying in supine
A Platform Therapy Swing can be beneficial to individuals who crave sensory input, particularly proprioceptive and vestibular input. The Platform Therapy Swing can help their brain regulate stimuli and provide a calming sensory activity. Platform swings can be made from items you have in your garage, or purchased in several different sizes and shapes.
Types of Platform Swings
There are different types of platform swings available for purchase, from home made to deluxe versions. The following are examples of these swings, not endorsements for these products.
- The basic Platform swing is a square piece of wood, padded for safety and comfort, that attaches to the ceiling. To install simply find an open area, drill a hole into support beam of ceiling, screw in hook, and hang swing. There are different types of platform swings, and the swing seat with a wooden platform requires more core strength and stability. It also offers a stable surface for standing and playing prone.
- Other platform swings available on Amazon (affiliate link) use a soft surface which offer less support, but is a less expensive option. It secures from a single hook.
- This Giant 700lb 60 inch Saucer Tree Swing for Kids Adults gave me a laugh. I was expecting a giant swing that weighed 700lbs! The swing is rated for 700lbs of load capacity; however, the wording does not reflect this.
- Waterproof platform swings are available with a platform swing with a mesh bottom. It does not look like it has bounce to it like a trampoline, but made from mesh to drain better and be cleaned easier.
Here is a video with instructions to make a DIY platform swing:
Use the instructions to make an outdoor sensory swing, or you could modify the instructions to make an indoor platform swing.
PLATFORM SWING STANDS
There are several types of support mechanisms for sensory Platform swings. The traditional method is to secure an eye bolt in a support beam in the ceiling. However, not all areas have accessible beams or are feasible.
Affiliate links listed below.
- Stand Frame for Platform swing. It is simple to assemble, allowing you to adjust the horizontal-bar height (no wrench required) ranging from 70.86’’ to 100.4’’ This swing stand can bear up to 440.9 lbs. Convenient and easy to move, this KT swing stand can fit anywhere within your home/office and takes LESS THAN 10 SECONDS TO FOLD UP after use. Easy to add or remove other accessories besides the platform swing, and add kits such as foam handle grips, hanging hook, swing chair for kids, or TRX straps.
- A Frame stand: this free-standing frame fits several types of swings. Clearly the amount of movement is restricted when compared to swings bolted to a ceiling, but work in areas where a ceiling hook is not feasible, or you want something portable.
- This is a Mediterranean stand, or the kind you imagine on back patios or at resorts. One consideration with this type of swing stand is that it isn’t appropriate for larger motions of the swing so it’s use can be limited.
- Another option is this A-frame deluxe stand for hanging all kinds of suspended equipment. You can change the swing out to include linear swinging or use the swivel attachment to spin.
- Doorway swing bar: Fits 26″-36″ door frames. Needs 2-1/4″ flat space for brackets. Weight capacity 220 lbs (100kg). Your door will close with this swing in place
- Six piece doorway swing set attaches without damaging the door frame.
Platform Swing SAFETY TIPS
Before jumping into the fun platform swing activities and benefits, we need to take a moment to talk about safety with the platform swing. Everything we do poses risks, and swings are no exception. And this is especially true in an occupational therapy session where sensory input may challenge a child’s “safe” level of regulation.
We might see hyper responsiveness or hypo-responsiveness following use of a platform swing.
Secondly, kids with special needs do not have the natural reactions and responses as their neurotypical counterparts, therefore they are more at risk for injury.
Check your equipment. Make sure your hanging device is secure and rated for the weight and size of your participant. This is important on a regular basis. I worked in a clinic that had several swing hooks. One day we looked up and the carabiner was almost worn through! This was a lesson to be more vigilant with all the equipment, including ropes, netting, ceiling attachments, and hooks, not just the platform swing itself.
Provide some sort of padding or crash pad. Concrete floors are not forgiving. For a therapy space when a tool like the platform swing is used, you can’t always predict motor and sensory responses.
Plan for the movement of the swing. Children should stay a safe distance from other kids on swings, being careful not to run or walk in front of or behind moving swings. In a busy clinic, this is often a big hazard. While I am a big fan of natural consequences, some parents frown on their child being knocked over by a moving swing.
And, when it comes to planning for how the platform swing will move, be sure to leave enough space between your suspended equipment and the wall or other pieces of equipment.
Supervision- Adult supervision should be a given when working with children with special needs. They may have poor impulse control, muscle movement, and reaction times. I had a student who fell on his face out of a swing. He said he did not know he was falling until he hit the ground. Luckily it was a short drop!
Supervision is especially needed when a sensory room is used as a calm down space in the school setting. Some schools have a sensory room with a swing like a platform swing (or other options). Supervision is always required in these spaces.
Watch your child for different reactions. Look at their eyes for signs of nystagmus indicating their body senses the movement. Too much movement may cause dizziness and vomiting. A child can go from being fine to vomiting in a split second. These things happen.
Finally, be aware that accidents will happen. As noted in the child above, I was standing two feet from him when he let go of the ropes all of a sudden, and took a nose dive onto the floor. He was seven years old and generally not accident prone.
benefits of the sensory Platform swing
All swings have some benefit, and the Platform swing is no exception. Let’s cover the benefits of a sensory platform swing so that you can focus on supporting therapeutic needs using a sensory platform swing.
If the best benefit is fun and enjoyment, you have picked a winner! Swinging has many more benefits than just providing a good time.
When a child is on a playground, they are using their body in a healthy way. As they play on a playground, 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 and screen time 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. Time on the playground swinging, climbing, and sliding allows these important systems to develop.
One important consideration to note is that some children feel unstable on this swing and need to start by sitting with their therapist or being able to touch the ground while swinging.
Some of the benefits of using a platform swing in therapy sessions include:
- The unstable surface challenges a child’s body positioning, promoting improved motor planning, balance, coordination, and righting reactions.
- Sensory: not only does swinging help develop and organize several of the different senses, it can change overall arousal level. You can target a variety of sensory needs using a platform swing. Swinging can be calming and alerting, depending on the type of movements produced. Slow rhythmic movement is calming, whereas rapid unpredictable movement can be alerting. Some sensory seekers will need rapid movement first to fill their sensory cup before being able to benefit from the calming effect of swinging.
- Calming effect: slow rhythmic movement while sitting or lying down on the platform can be calming
- Proprioception is crucial in regulating and accurately coordinating movements, making it an essential aspect of sensory processing. Regarding platform swings, the gentle swinging motion offers a soothing and organizing deep pressure input to joints and muscles, benefiting the nervous system.
- It is beneficial to a child’s spatial awareness. This supports spatial awareness development but also awareness of the body as it moves through space.
- Swinging stimulates the vestibular system, vital for maintaining balance and coordination. The integration of proprioceptive and vestibular input can have a regulating and soothing impact on the nervous system, resulting in heightened attention and concentration.
- Balance and coordination- From the first step onto the platform swing, balance and coordination is challenged. Then, add additional challenges and you challenge the visual sense, core, shoulder and hip girdle, ankles, and stability of the feet. The platform swing benefits balance and coordination in many ways!
- Integration of primitive reflexes through elongation, activation, strengthening and grading of multiple muscle synergies throughout the body, especially in the core, to achieve refined three dimensional movement
- Platform swings develop a child’s core muscles and helps with the development of balance.
- Improves strength and stability of the shoulders, arms and hands through grasp, weight-bearing and weight-shifting, and of the pelvis, knees and feet through weight-bearing and movement changes.
- Dynamic stability with controlled mobility throughout the body, preventing fixing/holding or compensatory patterns.
- Holding onto the ropes of the platform swing while sitting or standing helps strengthens muscles. Maintaining a seated position or squat strengthens muscles as well while challenging balance and coordination. Additionally, holding onto the the edges of the platform in prone or while sitting on the needs or in criss cross apple sauce or other seated position strengthens in isometric exercise.
- A platform swing is a tool for social interaction and development as there is often give-and-take with the therapist and the child.
- Swinging helps develop fine motor skills—grip strength, hand, arm, and finger coordination.
- Spinning on a swing stimulates different parts of a child’s brain simultaneously. This is important for learning skills such as spatial awareness, rhythm and balance and muscle control.
We explore more of these benefits below in the platform swing activities section.
Platform Swing activities
Beyond the relaxing back and forth movement of the platform swing, there are many various ways to incorporate activities into swinging. These platform swing activities should be individualized to support each child’s specific sensory needs.
- Reach- Have your learner prone on the swing. They can reach for beanbags or balls on the ground and toss them overhand into a bucket. They will be building upper body and core strength while they play.
- Fine motor skills– Use clothespins to clip lightweight items, such as scarves, ribbons, or streamers, onto the swing ropes. Encourage the child to reach for and grab the items while swinging in a controlled manner. To make this activity more challenging, have the child use only one hand at a time or incorporate counting or color recognition tasks while grabbing the items. This exercise promotes hand-eye coordination, fine motor skills, and visual tracking abilities.
- Emotions and Creative Thinking- Platform swings provide an excellent opportunity for engaging in imaginative play scenarios such as riding on a magic carpet, flying through space, or swinging through the jungle. Encourage the child to use their creativity and verbal skills by pretending to be a character or telling a story while swinging. This activity not only promotes physical movement but also helps with social skills, language development, and emotional regulation.
- Language development can include receptive language and/or expressive language needs.
- Platform swing activities to target primitive reflex integration– This is a hands and knees activity on the swing. Position the child on the swing in a quadruped stance, placing their hands and knees on the platform. Encourage activities such as reading or pointing to a visual chart to enhance their core strength, balance, and motor planning abilities. When children position themselves on their hands and knees, crossing the midline becomes an enjoyable yet stimulating task. It presents a remarkable opportunity to strengthen the STNR reflex and refine ocular motor skills.
- Squats on the platform swing- have the child perform a squat while holding onto the swing. This activity can also be used as a calming technique by incorporating deep breathing exercises and slowing down the movements.
- Attach a rope to a fixed point. Your learner can pull themselves along the rope, then launch themselves. This provides extra grip strength and upper body strengthening.
- Prone puzzles- Another prone activity is putting a puzzle on the ground in front of your learner. They can stay stationary while completing the task, or move themselves around to retrieve pieces
- The tornado plat form swing activity- Add a rotational device to your swing hook to add instant rotation. If you do not have a rotation device, you can do a certain number of rotations before the swing gets tangled. To increase the level of challenge, incorporate cognitive tasks like spelling words or solving math problems while spinning. This activity encourages the child to use their vision, balance, and coordination skills while engaging in a fun and dynamic task.
- Hide and seek – Have your child close their eyes while swinging. Move to another spot and have them open their eyes. How quickly can they locate you?
- Standing on the platform swing- (gasp!) Standing on a platform swing provides a different type of input and takes more muscles and balance to be successful. You can hang the swing low so your learner is jumping off the ground.
- Gravitationally insecure children? Hang the swing very low, so your child can experience just a little movement at first.
- Tower tumble- This is a great coordination and gross motor core strength activity. Build a tower of large carboard blocks or buckets. See if your child can swing high enough to kick the tower of blocks over. This is very motivating for a child who might be fearful of movement.
- Shake the Platform Swing- This platform swing activity offers no linear movement at this point, just vibration and shaking. It’s a great activity for body awareness, core strength, and vestibular input. Can your child hold on while there is so much movement?
- Vary the way you push the child. You can push the swing, grab their feet or hands, or push on their body. Changing things up adds to the novelty of sensory hammock swing as well as creating new exercise and sensory opportunities.
Here is a great starter video on Platform swing activities:
Platform swing ideas can be incorporated into other occupational therapy goal areas as well.
Here’s another video to find platform swing ideas, too.
Make sure you check out our other posts in this swing series. You may find you like one swing better than another, or see different benefits in all of them.