Teach Your Child to Pump While on a Swing

Little girl swinging in a park

Blend Images - Inti St Clair / Brand X Pictures / Getty Images 

Hitting the playground with your preschooler? It's a great way for your little one to have fun, sure, but with every jump, slide, and seesaw they are exercising and working on important gross motor skills. In particular, the swings are a great way for a child to practice their coordination as well as hone the large muscles in their arms and legs‐not by being pushed, of course, but by learning how to pump themselves.

Is Your Child Ready?

Pumping on a swing may seem simple enough, but it's actually a pretty complicated maneuver. A few things need to happen before a child can learn to do it. First, make sure your child is OK on a big-kid swing, rather than riding high in a bucket-type one. (Bucket-type swings are a lot harder for a child to self-pump on.)

Your preschooler will need to have some balance and promise to always hold on tight to the ropes or chains while sitting in the seat. (Reinforce that a few times.) It will take a few sessions of playground playing before she might feel comfortable with this new sensation of sitting on a non-bucket-type swing.

There really isn't much support on a typical playground swing set that doesn't have a back or front, so don't rush your child. Give them a chance to get used to it and feel like they're ready to take the next step.

Safety Tip

Remind your child that when walking near a swing set or playground to be very aware of other people swinging on swings or your child could get hurt. Teach your child not to walk directly in front of or behind someone swinging.


Once you think they're ready, explain how they are going to be in charge of making the swing go, instead of your pushes. (Preschoolers love being in charge, so this is a good way to phrase it, especially if your child seems reluctant to start pumping the swing themselves.)

To start, get on a swing yourself. Let your child watch you swing and pump. As you go, give some play-by-play of what you are doing. "Legs back, legs out."

When it's your child's time to start the process of pumping their own swing, walk them through it. Explain how they need to bend their legs while they are headed backward and to straighten them when they are moving forward.

Depending on your preschooler's comfort level, you might want to continue to pump your own swing or stand next to their swing as they pump.


  • Try to find a low-hanging swing so it's easy for your child to get on and off alone.
  • If you feel comfortable, bring your child into your lap while you gently pump your legs and swing so they can get a feel for how the motion is supposed to go.
  • Stand in front of the swing and hold out your hands. Have your child attempt to touch your hands with their feet as they swing.
  • Teach your child to "kick the sky" as they move forward and "be a turtle" (hide and tuck their legs) as they move back.
  • Part of learning how to pump on a swing is to remember when to do which motion during the process. By simply saying each movement as your child is supposed to do it (even just "forward" and "back"), the message will begin to register.

A Word From Verywell

Be patient. Chances are your child is not going to master it right away, and may even ask to have you push them again. That's OK, have them keep practicing

2 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Adams J, Veitch J, Barnett L. Physical activity and fundamental motor skill performance of 5⁻10 Year old children in three different playgroundsInt J Environ Res Public Health. 2018;15(9):1896. doi:10.3390/ijerph15091896

  2. Nemours KidsHealth. Playground safety.

By Amanda Rock
Amanda Rock, mom of three, has spent more than a decade of her professional career writing and editing for parents and children.