What is a Teeter Totter?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A teeter totter is a long plank or platform which is suspended on a fulcrum. When weights are placed at either end of the plank, the plank may become balanced, in which case it moves to a horizontal position, or it may become imbalanced, with one side of the teeter totter being lower than the other. By adjusting the level and position of the weights, various levels of balance and imbalance can be achieved.

Playgrounds may feature a teeter totter.
Playgrounds may feature a teeter totter.

In physics classes, the teeter totter is often used to illustrate basic principles, with students exploring the different configurations which can cause the position of the machine to change. Problems involving an imbalanced board mounted on a fulcrum often crop up on examinations, as well, requiring students to put their skills to use. The governing principles which dictate the way in which a teeter totter moves can also be used for weights and measurements.

A teeter totter may be used as an educational tool to show children how configuration changes affect balance levels.
A teeter totter may be used as an educational tool to show children how configuration changes affect balance levels.

The teeter totter also appears as a tool for outside play. Many playgrounds for young children include a teeter totter, also known as a seesaw or tilt board. Playing on the unbalanced platform can simply be fun for children, but it can also be used as an educational tool, if parents show their children how changes in configuration can change the level of balance. Skilled users can even keep the equipment in constant motion by shifting their weight, which promotes cooperative play among children.

Although a playground teeter totter can be a great learning experience as well as a source of fun, it can also be potentially dangerous. Sudden shifts in weight may cause the device to become so unbalanced that a child could fall off, sustaining damage which could vary from a wounded pride to concussion. For this reason, soft materials are often positioned under a seesaw, so that children are not at risk of broken bones if they fall off, and children are cautioned to be careful when they use the device, to avoid hurting their playmates.

Manufacturers of playground equipment produce a range of teeter totters which are ready for installation, although some people prefer to make their own, or to improvise one using the materials at hand. In a classroom environment, making a seesaw can be an instructive project, while people horsing around in a yard or on the beach may want to be able to quickly assemble one for acrobatics and general fun.

Small children often incur minor injuries when playing on a teeter totter or other playground equipment.
Small children often incur minor injuries when playing on a teeter totter or other playground equipment.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


@bluespirit - I haven't noticed any safer seesaw or teeter totter landing area, unless of course you count the inflatable ones I have seen that go in your pool!

Oh yeah, just when I thought they had made just about everything for the pool in the form of toys, from basketball to volleyball, I saw a huge inflatable teeter totter, except I think they called it a water totter or something like that.

It looks like tons of fun, but just as with the regular seesaws or teeter totters, I wonder how safe they are!


I had two brothers and one sister so we had the perfect amount for 2 teeter totters or see saws as we called them.

However, we also had a lot of fun playing on the teeter totters in many different ways - for example - putting two people on one side to see how fast we could slingshot the one person on the other side up or using the teeter totter as a sort of adventurous slide to see if you could make it down before the other person could knock you off.

Surprisingly I don't remember anybody getting hurt! But I did wonder if they had started making any better see saw and teeter totter landing material for underneath the play area (we always seemed to have the little branch-like mulch, which always led to a bit of poking).


Many of the teeter totters that are made today are much safer than the long boards I remember when growing up.

My daughter works part time at a daycare center and they have a Gym Dandy teeter totter outside in their play area.

This is made with a pendulum system and is more like a rocking motion than the wide up and down swings of traditional teeter totters.

It is also painted in bright colors that are appealing to the kids. This type of teeter totter is still a lot of fun for them, but much safer.


When I was in elementary school we had a childrens teeter totter on the playground. I remember this being quite popular, and one of the places many kids would run to first for recess.

This is something that I don't see in playgrounds anymore and realize it must be because they can be quite dangerous.

When my kids were in elementary school, none of them had a teeter totter on their playground. Once in awhile I will see them at a park, but they don't seem to be used nearly as often as they were when I was a kid.


The church camp I attended every summer as a teenager didn't have much for recreational facilities. What they did have though was several teeter totter seesaws.

This was the main place where we would congregate and socialize during our free time. I don't remember anyone getting seriously hurt on them, but can see now how dangerous they can be.

We would get several people on each side and try to balance the board. One of the most dangerous things about them is that you could get bounced off pretty easily if someone was much heavier than you.

Sometimes people would also jump off with no warning and that would leave you going to the ground in a big hurry.


My kids love their inflatable water teeter totter. They use it in the pool all the time. Thankfully, they are close in age, so they weigh about the same and can use it easily.

They love making splashes as they come down with their body weight. If I hear loud giggling and water sloshing around, I know they are on the teeter totter.

It’s pretty big and holds a lot of air. I had to inflate it with an electric pump.

The plastic handles on each side are white. They don’t get hot out in the sun like metal or black ones would. I’ve sat on the teeter totter before, and I have to say, it is quite comfortable.


I made my own teeter totter at home using a log and a big rock. It wasn’t intended to be used as a regular seesaw with two riders. It was a small scale version that I used alone.

The log was only about two feet long. I used it to pretend I was surfing. I placed one foot on each end and controlled the balance by shifting my weight from foot to foot. Sometimes I would shift in small amounts quickly, and other times I would go for long shifts.

I had a lot of fun using this. It was kind of suspenseful. Even though the ground was only a few inches away, I pretended that the danger of falling off was much greater. After all, I had to avoid sharks.


The seesaw was always a source of embarrassment for me. I was flirting with obesity as a child, and after one bad teeter totter experience, I began to avoid them.

In first grade, I saw the seesaw for the first time. Two of my classmates were on it, and it looked like it would be so much fun. My best friend and I waited in line to use it.

She was a very skinny child. I got on the seesaw first, and when I sat down, my side sunk all the way to the ground. She tried to pull her side down with her hands so she could get on it, but she wasn’t strong enough.

I could feel that this might end badly, but I was determined to give it a try. I stood up so she could get on first. Once she was settled, I sat down, and her side raised all the way up while mine sank to the ground once more. It was impossible for me to use the seesaw.


It has been many years since I played on a teeter totter in elementary school. Our playground was a bit basic. The school was small when compared to those in the bigger cities a few miles away, so it didn’t have the budget to build a big, safe playground.

The seesaw was simply a long plank with handles near each end for us to hold onto. There were no seats, and there was no padding underneath. We simply took our chances.

I remember a couple of times being on it with a kid who got rough and tried to slam me down. I would always put out my feet to keep from hitting the ground hard. I still recall the fear I felt when going high and fast up in the air and losing control of the situation.


What's the best material for an outdoor teeter totter?

I'm planning on getting one for the kids as a Christmas present but I'm not sure which kind would hold up best outdoors?

We get a lot of rain and humidity here, so I don't want one that's going to rust and wear out from the weather. I'm guessing that the plastic ones won't be able to stand under much weight and the metal ones might rust if the paint wears off.

Any suggestions?


@turkay1-- The old style teeter totters are like that, uncomfortable and a little dangerous too.

I bought a small teeter totter for my grandson recently and it is so nice. It has a pendulum shape in the middle so the teeter totter doesn't rise and drop really suddenly. It also has very soft seats that are molded and a safety lock. This was the only kind that I was satisfied with because I know my grandson won't get injured on it.

We didn't have such nice ones in our days. It was very uncomfortable as you mentioned and kids would fall off of them left and right. I'm glad there are safer ones for kids now.


The teeter totter was my favorite playground equipment when I was a kid! I remember that I would refuse to play on it with older and heavier kids because when they sat down on it, I felt like I was flying up in the air! It seemed to work so well with someone my age, I guess the equal weight made it easier to ride on.

Sometimes when I take my daughter to the playground, I feel like getting on the teeter totter again. I told my husband about it several times and he told me to just do it one day. I tried it after so many years and it felt so different! I hadn't realized how uncomfortable those seats are! I guess I didn't care much about the discomfort when I was a kid.

My daughter doesn't like the teeter totter like I used to though. She prefers the slides and swings.


If you shop around you may be able to find a used children's teeter totter for sale in the classifieds or online. Our family managed to pick up a Little Tikes teeter totter quite cheaply. Plus, it was really cute and shaped like a whale, so the kids really had a lot of fun with it.

With all home playground equipment, it is a good idea to shop around. A lot of families sell off their stuff once the kids get to be too old.

We also managed to get a set of swings and a small jungle gym really cheaply with a bit of bargain hunting at local garage sales.


My kids absolutely loved playing on the teeter totter that was set up at our local playground. They could easily spend a good hour just going up and down, trying to see who could keep their balance the longest. We were pretty sad when the local playground ended up taking out their teeter totter due to damage.

We solved our problem by buying a classic alligator teeter totter, which is a good purchase for your own backyard if your kids can't get enough at the playground (or if the playground loses theirs). The alligator teeter totter is made of a solid plastic, is easy to clean and is not to hard to move around. Plus, you can always store it in the basement when the weather gets too bad.

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