Encourage your kids to hit the playground swings more often, as the favourite childhood activity can teach children how to get along with each other, scientists say. The measured synchronous movement of children on the swings can encourage preschoolers to cooperate on subsequent activities, according to a new study.
Researchers from the University of Washington in the US showed the potential of synchronised movement in helping young children develop collaborative skills. “Synchrony enhances cooperation, because your attention is directed at engaging with another person, at the same time,” said Tal-Chen Rabinowitch, postdoctoral researcher at UW’s Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences (I-LABS). “We think that being ‘in time’ together enhances social interaction in positive ways,” said Rabinowitch.
Previous studies have linked music and being in sync with other pro-social behaviours, such as helping, sharing and empathising, among young children: For example, marching to a song, might prompt one child to share with another. In this study, researchers sought to focus on movement alone, without music, and examined how children cooperated with one another afterward. They built a swing set that enabled two children to swing in unison, in controlled cycles of time.
Pairs of four-year-olds - who were unfamiliar to one another - were randomly assigned to groups that either swung together in precise time, swung out of sync with each other, or did not swing at all. The pairs in all three groups then participated in a series of tasks designed to evaluate their cooperation. In one activity, the children played a computer game that required them to push buttons at the same time in order to see a cartoon figure appear. Another, called the “give and take” activity, involved passing objects back and forth through a puzzle-like device.
Researchers found that the children who swung in unison completed the tasks faster, indicating better cooperation than those who swung out of sync, or not at all. On the button-push task, for instance, the pairs who had been swinging together showed a greater tendency to strategically raise their hands before they pushed the button so as to signal their intent to the other child, which proved to be a successful tactic for the task. For four-year-olds, moving in sync can create a feeling of “being like” another child that may encourage them to communicate more and try to work together, Rabinowitch said.
Children in the study played a computer game after swinging. When both children pushed a button at the same time, a cartoon character appeared on the screen, much to these boys’ delight. “We didn’t know before we started the study that cooperation between four-year-olds could be enhanced through the simple experience of moving together,” said Meltzoff. The study was published in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology.
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