Help engineer a cheap lever to achieve preschool swinging dreams!
February 6, 2017 1:01 PM   Subscribe

Can you help me Macgyver a mobile lever/arm to attach to a swing to hold a communication board for nonverbal students on the playground?

I'm a speech therapist who works with some nonverbal preschoolers, and many of them love swinging in plastic swing on our playground. Right now I hold up a picture board with words that they can point to and request while they are swinging, but it's awkward (at best) while they are swinging. I'd like to get a plastic arm on a lever that can move in the "up"/vertical position and then come down across a kid's lap while he or she is strapped in the swing to hold a communication board in front of them. This would allow them to request "more" or "go" or "stop" or "all done" while swinging without me or their teacher chasing them on the swing with the board in front of them while they are swinging.

My administration would support purchasing a tool for this purpose, but I'd rather avoid the hassle and engineer a cheap solution to trial it out. Can you help me think of an item to try or search terms to search for on Amazon or similar to engineer a solution? I've tried searching for "ball joint" and "plastic lever," but haven't found something just right.

The swing is very similar to this one, and has holes on the side that are about 1 1/2 inches in diameter:

I could fit something in or around the hole on the side with a movable lever/arm to let the kid get in and out of the swing with the board in place.

Any ideas? Thanks for your help!
posted by shortyJBot to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (11 answers total)
Could the "board" just be a big laminated card attached to the nylon strap with a keyring, that would sit in the kid's lap while they swing?
posted by contraption at 1:11 PM on February 6, 2017 [4 favorites]

Something attached to the swing might potentially be dangerous. Would something like a kneeboard work better? They're basically a small clipboard that fastens around the leg, though you wouldn't need one that complicated. Pilots use them for checklists. You could have a small laminated card with the various requests on it with a velcro strap to strap it around one of their legs.
posted by bondcliff at 1:21 PM on February 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

Another idea: if the swing set is laid out like the one in your link with a post on either side of each swing, could you attach signs to the posts and have the kids point to those? (e.g. "higher" is high on the left, "slower" is low on the left, "ready/go" is high on the right, "all done" is low on the right)

I agree there are potential safety issues with a protruding poky/hooky thing sticking off the side of the swing, and also think that something with moving parts is likely to wear out or break quickly.
posted by contraption at 1:27 PM on February 6, 2017 [4 favorites]

I'm also concerned about the safety issues with some kind of added structural thing. And I don't know where you are but there are probably insurance/risk management issues with adding a thing to a swing.

How many options do the children need to be able to show/point at? If it's only go / stop then a coloured wrist band or similar on each side? I'd prefer something soft attached to the swing (maybe like a short strap with different coloured fabric circles? Like a set of swatches) with a simple code, red for stop, yellow for slow down, green for more/faster?

I have a child that is sometimes non verbal and we generally do things he can adjust easily, like turning his hat or flipping his collar. Maybe there's something you can do with what the kids are already wearing or something you can Velcro to them, like a sash with things to point at?
posted by stellathon at 2:13 PM on February 6, 2017

Can you teach them simple gestures instead? Like others, this sounds potentially dangerous to me. My late talking child was a talented mime and had no trouble communicating with my via gestures, even though we never pursued formal sign language.

There are no doubt many existed hand gestures that could be used. Google shows multiple made up classroom hand signal sets, motorcycle hand signal sets, military hand signal sets. If you need only three or four things, I think the easiest, safest answer is just create a hand signal for each one and teach the kids the meaning.
posted by Michele in California at 3:19 PM on February 6, 2017

Try looking for ipad holding arms. There are a ton of different styles on amazon (some cheap!) and it would easy enough to make a semi rigid ipad size/shape communication board to put in place of an actual ipad or mount simple switches with pre recorded messages (like three go talk buttons). I would look for something that is a flexible arm (gooseneck) so if it DID hit a child, it would have some give in it, and would be easy to reposition as needed. But, also, look a knee boards, or maybe mounting the symbols for STOP/MORE on the poles on each side of the swing for a child to point or eye gaze at to communicate what they want.
posted by Northbysomewhatcrazy at 3:20 PM on February 6, 2017

Yeah, I don't think that a swinging arm would be entirely safe.

I'd say you could velcro the pictures to a sweatband and put it over the child's wrist, or velcro the pictures right to the swing itself, if possible.
posted by christinetheslp at 4:46 PM on February 6, 2017

Sounds like a much simpler solution would be good. Why not some green and red duct tape, one color on each arm? Green is go/more and red is stop/less.
posted by chasles at 5:35 PM on February 6, 2017 [4 favorites]

Of course, i meant arm of the swing.
posted by chasles at 7:32 AM on February 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

What if you had a red tennis ball and a green tennis ball (possibly with words like MORE and STOP written on them) cut to clamp on one of the swing chains, you can slip the balls on when the kid sits down and toss in a bag to take away with you when you leave. And theoretically expandable to several words (not just "stop" but the difference between "please stop pushing now I want to just swing by myself" and "please stop the swing now I want to get off") though eventually you'd run out of space that the kid can easily reach.
posted by aimedwander at 11:24 AM on February 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

riffing on chasles' idea: make the right arm of the swing a gas pedal (from the swinger's perspective), front box is "faster", back box is "slower"; left arm is "stop".
posted by cyclicker at 10:32 PM on February 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

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