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Fidget Spinners Forever? An occupational therapist explains why fidgets are not all bad

Posted at 3:35 PM, Jul 18, 2017

Occupational therapist Tera Robinson has seen fidget spinners help kids to concentrate in the classroom. She explains why and how they can be helpful.

Fidgets in the Classroom: Why? What? How?

We are right in the middle of the fidget spinner craze! The debates and rants have died down a bit because school is out for summer and no one has a problem if children are paying more attention to their fidget spinner than they are to their screens. Or the fidget spinners are inside while the kids are swimming, riding bikes and playing at the park. But... School starts soon and the discussion will surely fire back up! Hopefully, this post will help give some thought and good ideas to implement and help calm the craze, especially in our classrooms.

A fidget is one of many tools that helps students self-regulate their attention, behavior and learning. Fidget spinner marketers have done a fabulous job in gaining the attention of the general public about something people have been doing for ages and that occupational therapists have been recommending for decades! You've already seen fidgets in many forms, even before the invention of the fidget spinner! Twirling hair, tapping fingers, bouncing knees, clicking pens, doodling... As long as you are not distracting or disturbing to others, these are also great self-regulation tools!

Maybe you know a student or two or three... who may struggle with appropriate classroom behaviors. Students with the following behaviors would benefit from using a fidget:
• difficulty paying attention, listening and following directions
• difficulty maintaining alertness (may exhibit "dazed" looks)
• difficulty holding still or staying in his/her seat
• difficulty keeping hands to her/himself and staying in his/her own space

The key to a successful classroom fidget is that it that works as a tool, not a toy. Each student will respond differently to different fidgets. I've seen many different fidgets work very successfully in classrooms, including simple fidget spinners for a student or two and fidget cubes for a few more, but the key is still that it is used as a tool, NOT a toy.
There are a few practical considerations to take into account when choosing fidgets for the classroom:
• Price is important in a full classroom of young students.
• The ability to use hands for learning activities is another important factor.
• Simple and plain is best for classroom fidgets.

I have learned a few things over the years in using fidgets and other sensory strategies in my classroom: (Although this article is specific for fidgets, all points in this section can be applied to any sensory strategy, such as seating options and brain breaks, used in the classroom.)
• All fidgets should be taught with procedures and purpose.
• Provide more fidgets than children.
• Don't use fidgets as a punishment for not being able to sit still or poor behavior.
• Don't take away fidgets for not following directions, using fidgets incorrectly, or not sitting still.
• Most importantly, help children self-regulate and recognize when and if a particular fidget is helping him/her engage in the learning.

You can check out the full list of her suggested fidgets here.