All You Need to Know About the Teeter Totter

A teeter-totter and a seesaw can be considered as identical pieces of playground equipment, but the main difference is that teeter-totters are capable of moving horizontally and can be used by more than two children simultaneously.

Probably due to too many kids falling on their faces, teeters totters are not as popular as they used to be. They are still at some old parks, but you rarely see them in backyards anymore. That is a shame because, under proper usage, they are the best way to have simple fun outside.

A teeter-totter has two seats or more on opposite ends of a board, which is attached to a fulcrum in the middle. That way, kids can bounce back and forth together.

If you are considering buying a teeter-totter, read up on them here first.

A Physics Lesson on Torque

Teeter totters and seesaws can be designed in a wide variety of ways to look fun and flashy for the kids. Some look like the wings of an airplane. Others look like, well, a saw. Both rely on the same overall physics concept of torque.

Torque describes rotating force. If you balance a plank or other flat object on a central point, push on the end of the plank. The further to the end of the plank you push, the more energy you apply to the other side. If you push close to the middle, you will hardly see any movement take place. The further out you go, the more movement.

A professor teaching Physics.
The mechanism of teeter-totters and seesaws is based on the physics concept of torque, the measure of force that allows objects to rotate

Teeter totters use this principle to generate fun with two kids on either end. When Child A sits on an end and pushes with their feet against the ground, it causes the other end of the board to move in an equal and opposite direction. This sends Child B at the other end down towards the ground.

Child B reaches the ground, while Child A heads up high (but still in his or her seat). Child B pushes on the ground, which sends them back up into the air and Child A back down again.

What is the Difference Between a Seesaw and a Teeter-Totter?

Since we just talked about both teeter-totters and seesaws, it might make sense to clear this up now. For the most part, these two terms are synonyms and describe the same backyard toy. After all, the same overall concept of torque is applied to both.

A seesaw.
A teeter-totter is almost the same as a seesaw, but the difference is that teeter-totters can move horizontally and comprise multiple seats.

Usually, the terms are interchangeable and only vary depending on where you are in the world. It is like asking if something is:

  • A sofa or a couch (or a chesterfield)
  • A lamp or a light
  • A sub or hoagie
  • Pork roll or Taylor Ham 

While true that teeter-totter and seesaw are essentially interchangeable at this point, it is important to note that they initially had a couple of small differences. Their names describe what those differences originally were.

Design of a Teeter Totter

A teeter-totter “teeters” all over. While utilizing the same principles, the fulcrum attachment in the middle is rounded off. This means that for teeter-totters, movement can also be side to side as well as up and down.

The movement is also not extremely fast or high off the ground, making them ideal for toddlers. Also, since horizontal movement is free form, multiple seats in a circle are often added to teeter-totters.

Design of a Seesaw

Seesaws, on the other hand, are a bit more basic. Deriving their term from the back and forth motion of a “saw” over an object, seesaws simply move back and forth over a perpendicular object, such as a:

  • Plank
  • Pipe
  • Steel beam holding other seesaws

There is no horizontal movement with a seesaw, only up and down. The concept here is a bit older than a teeter-totter, which explains its simplicity.

However, what it lacks in design, it makes up for in exhilaration. Seesaws are typically much larger than teeter-totters. When someone is in the upper position, they are often several feet off the ground.

The size of a seesaw often results in a common prank: an unsuspected Child A sits on one end on the ground. Child B quickly jumps down on the other end, launching Child A into the air. Not exactly safe, but it points out another difference: that would not happen with a classically designed teeter-totter.

Which One is Better?

It really depends on how old your kids are. If they are little toddlers, just buy a basic teeter-totter for now. Some of the smaller ones fit nicely in the living room and are easy to put together.

A boy playing and having fun.
If they are little toddlers, just buy a basic teeter-totter for now.

When your children are older, you might consider buying a full-size seesaw instead. It will be strong enough to handle them and their antics. You might even enjoy going for a ride too!

The Best Teeter Totters

While you could always build your own basic seesaw, teeter-totters are a bit more complex. Why build either when plenty of options exist for descent prices online? Here is a variety of teeter-totters, from those for toddlers to awesome preteen rides:

  • Little Tikes– As different as this looks from a wood plank laying on a piece of pipe, yes, this is a teeter-totter. It has three seats for when your kids’ friends come over, and cute animal face.
  • TP Toys– This is a little more advanced than the last one but still on the smaller side. Great for the upper single-digit kids. Oh, by the way, it spins too.
  • ZENY– This is a bigger teeter-totter meant for outside use and for older kids. It is easy to set up and has a strong steel design.

Ways to Keep Your Teeter Totter Safe

As we mentioned earlier, no matter which teeter-totter you use, there is no need for injury risk. If you are using it correctly, it should be a great toy for your children to enjoy.

Kids having fun.
To make sure kids are happy and safe, you should properly use a teeter-totter and utilize additional equipment pieces to make the area kid-friendly.

Proper Usage

Use a teeter-totter wrong, like that prank, and of course, someone could get hurt. But that goes for any toy, especially an outside one. Make sure your kids follow these tips when using their teeter-totter:

  • Only two kids at a time. A third kid should never be sitting in the middle unless the design allows for it with a proper seat.
  • All other kids should clear the area. Standing underneath or in the vicinity of spin can risk injury.
  • Always hold the handle to keep you safe.
  • No fast bouncing. Bouncing too fast can cause the other child to lose their grip. Keep bounces slow and deliberate.
  • Always have adult supervision, especially for toddlers.

Equipment

In addition to safe usage, there are a couple of other things you can buy or make to keep the teeter-totter area safe. Keep it in a fenced-in backyard if possible, so that neighbor kids do not use it without your permission and adult supervision. Put the teeter-totter on a flat section of grass, not a patio where kids could possibly scuff their knees.

A Teeter-totter outside.
Put the teeter-totter on a flat section of grass.

If you install your teeter-totter and realize it might be a little more intense then you had hoped, you can also require your children to wear a helmet.

Recap

So, in conversational speech, teeter-totters and seesaws are essentially the same things even though their original concepts varied slightly. But nowadays, with all the customization of these toys that have occurred, it is impossible for them apart.

What is obvious is that the teeter-totter is loads of fun. The customization as of late will hopefully spawn a new wave of popularity. In the meantime, it will keep your kids busy. Who knows, you might even give it a try yourself!

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