Once upon a time nearly every suburban backyard boasted a swing. For a while, swingsets—differentiated from those single swings that dangled from a sturdy tree branch—were mostly handmade affairs, cobbled together by tool-wielding dads savvy enough to bolt a set of wood or steel upright stanchions to a horizontal connecting bar, plant the entirety firmly in the ground, and then suspend from it a couple of wooden swing seats.
It was a simple pastime, this, with kids idling away an afterschool hour or two outdoors, perfecting the art of pumping their legs and pulling themselves upward, gaining velocity until they finally reached that frightening elevation where the ropes went limp in their hands, and gravity itself seemed, for a breathless moment, to disappear altogether. The options have expanded over the years, of course. Materials shifted to molded plastics, and features were added, like short slides or gymnasts’ rings.
More recently, the simple swingset of old has become so ornate it’s almost unrecognizable, with rock walls, ladders, ropes, slides, bridges, multiple rooms, numerous themed and custom versions. The bells and whistles dazzle and amaze. If you look closely at the modern playset or playscape, however, you’ll still find at its heart a child moving like a pendulum above the ground below, free from everything but the pure joy of movement.
The enduring popularity of this form of play suggests that, when given the opportunity, kids of a certain age will strive to do much more than boot up a video game. Backyard swings and swingsets—whether as straightforward as two lengths of rope and a board or as complex as a miniature castle— will never go out of fashion.
Did You Know?
As a pastime, swinging on a seat suspended by ropes is nearly as old as recorded human history. As early as the fifth century B.C., vases painted by Greek artists depicted women and children swinging on swings.