Play with Psychological Payoff: Playing with Attunement and Brain Psychology in Mind Can Turn a Trip to the Neighborhood Playground into an Important Tool for Child Development

By Bartram, Samantha | Parks & Recreation, August 2015 | Go to article overview

Play with Psychological Payoff: Playing with Attunement and Brain Psychology in Mind Can Turn a Trip to the Neighborhood Playground into an Important Tool for Child Development


Bartram, Samantha, Parks & Recreation


You may not remember your life as a three-year-old child. It's natural after all, that was a long time ago and life changes significantly as we age. Still, some of your most critical developmental milestones occur around that age--constracting sentences, running, engaging in make-believe and many others, including attuning to your caregivers. This lattermost process goes both ways, of course--attunement also includes the process of a caregiver focusing on a child's vocalizations, body language and facial expression in order to understand what he or she needs, wants and feels.

Exciting new innovations in playground design and manufacturing, coupled with increasing attention on the science of play, are introducing new and beneficial ways for generations of family to develop deep, meaningful bonds through play

Look Me in the Eye

"When mother and infant face each other--and the infant is old enough to have a nice smile--when their eyes meet there is a mutually joyful expression," says Dr. Stuart Brown, founder and president of the National Institute for Play. "That rhythmic union is what I would call attunement."

Any piece of playground equipment that allows for face-to-face contact--see-saw, multiple-occupancy swing, some spinners--can aid in attunement, but not all are available to a wide range of users. Swings at least allow for some level of multigenerational play, as many grandparents are able to push a baby in a bucket-style swing or (unsafely) sit on a larger swing while holding a toddler in the lap. But, this does nothing for attunement, as eye contact cannot be achieved.

Tom Norquist, senior vice president at GameTime, had long been pondering the play mechanics of traditional swings. "Having studied children swinging for years...you see that when you put a toddler in a full-bucket seat, and the adult normally pushes form behind, that interaction is not as desirable," Norquist says. Working with his students at Auburn University's Industrial De sign Department and inspired by Brown's book Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul, Norquist sought to create what his company has now revealed as the Expression Swing. "The really significant difference in this particular invention is it's a parent-child or a caregiver-child experience," Norquist says.

Inspired Design

The Expression Swing's design includes a bucket seat for children with an adult swing seat that allows the caregiver and child to interact with each other and observe each other's facial expressions during play. Additionally, it allows for what Brown describes as "3D movement." "If you take a 14-month-old child, massive things are happening in brain development at that time," he says. "Related to exploration and movement the child ... has a lot of urge to move within 3D space, with gravity being part of the equation. The design of this swing allows the flexibility to have face-to-face mixed-age play occur in a climate of 3D movement. That is stimulatory for good things going on in the brain. If you have socially comfortable children who are safe and well fed, and they engage in 3D movement in climate of play, it lights up their brain and is incredibly good for them."

The swing went through three years of development and rigorous safety testing before its reveal in April of this year. …

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