Fidgets are Tools, not Toys!

In our world – no matter your age – we are surrounded by stimuli coming at us from every which way. It can be difficult to regulate when we feel overwhelmed, anxious, and distracted by things around us. The inability to focus is a real challenge, especially for individuals who suffer from: attention hyper-activity deficit disorder (ADHD), anxiety, emotional disorders, and autism spectrum disorder (ASD). So what can we do about increasing attentiveness and focus in the classroom for those kiddos who are literally screaming for our help? Well, a simple intervention to consider is a tool nearly everyone has heard about: a fidget. It’s all the rage these days.

According to an article by Katherine Isbister, more fidgets are being banned from classrooms; Brad Tuttle claims that they are being banned because these tools are causing more distractions than improving focus and attentiveness. [1, 2] I’ll have to agree with Katherine that fidget tools are absolutely necessary which should be made available to students who need additional sensory supports and with Brad that banning fidget tools is on the rise. I write to you today so that we can be educated on the research that supports fidgets, how to effectively introduce fidgets to your students, and some inexpensively safe options out there for you to bring into your classroom. The meaning of a fidget is as follows: a self-regulation tool that uses a sense other than the one being used for a primary function/task by an individual to enhance attention, focus, and active listening [3].

Sydney Zentall, Ph.D, from Purdue University studied how fidgets affect students who have been diagnosed with ADHD. [4] She found that by giving children a secondary task that is being conducted by a sense not used to perform the primary task, children were more successful and demonstrated an enhanced performance as a result. These are called sensory-motor activities, or what she likes to call “distractions“.

Types of Fidgets

I feel there is a fidget out there for everyone. You’ve just got to find the right one that suits your student’s needs. I do my best to relate match them with a fidget that corresponds with their type of intelligence and how they learn best. For example, doodling counts as a fidget. Remember, a fidget is a tool acting as a secondary task to help balance the brain. My artistic young minds in my classroom who are more often than not quiet during my read alouds are permitted to doodle so long as it is sketching what I’m reading about or drawing little squiggles that help them stay focused on what I am reading. Below is a table of fidgets that needn’t cost you any additional money, because these should be able to be located within your classroom.

Material(s)ActionType of Learner Purpose
Paper,
pencil
DoodleVisualImprove listening
VelcroRub, take
on,
take off
TactileSupports movement
and touch in non-disruptive
way
Music in
background
Listen and
work
AuditoryBuilds focus and
calms
the brain
Felt, pencilDrum, tap on
desk/surface
TactileSupports movement
and touch in non-
disruptive way
Duct tape,
floor
space
Walking
within set
boundary
Kinesthetic Supports appropriate
movement through
acceptable walking
boundary

Types of Fidgets, continued.

Above was a little taste of how accessible fidgets are to you and your students. There are more types out there, and I highly encourage you to explore what is available to you and your students that will result in enhanced focus, attention, and productivity! I have composed another table of more fidgets I have personal experience with that I have found to provide improvement of focus, attention, and the overall work ethic of my students in my ED classroom. I have a lot of kinesthetic learners in my room, so many listed to appeal to my movers. But seriously, there are SO many out there!

Material(s)ActionType of Learner Purpose
Wiggle Chair Wiggle and
move
within
assigned
area
KinestheticSupports appropriate
movement
within assigned space
Teacher/IAWalk and
Talk
Kinesthetic,
Interpersonal
Talk out the conflict or
feelings away from
what may cause
escalation
Stationary
Bike
Get all the
high
energy
out!
Kinesthetic Bike in one place to
work off extra energy
Noise-
Cancelling
headphones
Wear in
louder
settings or
during
indepen-
dent
work
Intrapersonal,
Spatial
Eliminate sounds
causing disruption,
distraction, or
discomfort

Why Do I Use Fidgets in my Emotional Disturbance Classroom?

These are my secret weapon. The students are at the point (end of the school year) where they will say, “Miss Stogsdill, I feel anxious. Can I get a fidget to regulate?” How powerful is this? Fidgets not only help regulate my students, but the students have learned to self-monitor and tell me what it is they need to focus, become more attentive, and wash away the anxiety.

Fidgets My Students Use

Wiggly chairs, break areas, preferential seating, sticker charts. If you’re a teacher, you’ve tried at least one of these interventions to support behavior in your classroom. You might have even tried them all like me! I found I needed more tools in my toolbox for self-regulation and improving focus in the classroom. I hypothesized that if I could circumvent outbursts and episodes from occurring through a different set of tools, my job would get easier. I thought, “What else can I do to eliminate the amount of little fires I put out within an hour?” I went on Amazon to try to find some legit fidget tools to bring into my classroom. Below is what I settled on:

At the end of the year, my fidget bin is missing my fidget spinners and Shake Calm down bottles…

Here’s why: the tools coming in this 16 piece set passed the test of what makes a fidget a good fidget. They weren’t noisy, didn’t take up a lot of space, allowed for appropriate movement, and provided variety. I knew I needed different options for my kiddos. I also knew that I would need a couple of the same fidgets so there wouldn’t be any arguing over who has what. This set offered everything I was looking for.

I have to admit that the rubrics cube became my personal fidget… I sort of took that one over! The kids were playing with it one day and asked me for help. They shouldn’t have, because they haven’t really gotten it back! But it’s become more of a joke with us. They’ll ask, “Miss Stogsdill, did you get it yet?” They know I can’t solve it. I know I can’t solve it. But it’s become an addiction, and I cannot put it down. So, I’ll look at them with my infamous teacher look and reply, “Nope. Not yet. Did you turn in your homework yet?” Then we laugh and continue on with our business. Anyway, all these fidgets are used in a purposeful way. I noticed a change in the overall

The lava lamp one is a huge hit in the classroom, and it is always a go-to item when my students are in the Cool Down space in our room. They just tip it upside down and watch it go down. They practice some breathing techniques with it, too. For one of my students in particular who has anxiety, this was perfect for her. It would sit on her desk when she really needed it, and this fidget alone would de-escalate her. Of course, this wasn’t a major episode, just something that was starting to boil up inside her, and she could feel it coming on. This fidget tool supported her in the de-escalation process!

This year during state-testing testing season, I passed around fidgets for my students to enhance focus. A lot of them preferred the stretchy strings – they pull on them and twist them while testing. Having a secondary task to focus on supported them in their executive functioning during this very stressful time. Two of my students went a lot longer before becoming overwhelmed than usual, and I believe it was partly because of the tools I supplied them with to give them a fighting chance at being successful.

Disclosure: I am not saying that fidgets are these magical things that eliminate outbursts, episodes, and anxiety. What I am stating is that in my emotional disturbance classroom, I have observed that the fidget tools are useful in supporting my students with de-escalation, attentiveness, and focus. As educators, we have to try everything. So it is my advice to you that if you haven’t tried to provide your students with a fidget tool, you might want to look into it!
Also, this page does consist of affiliate links. This means that should you click on a link and purchase the item from the link, I may receive compensation at no additional cost to you.

Recommendations I Have For You

Try something you think will work for your student. Model and demonstrate how the tool can be used effectively. Have that conversation with your student about how fidgets are tools, not toys. It is just as important for them to know the why as it is to know the how.

Document the effectiveness of the intervention you try. Give it 4-6 weeks, and go from there! But above all, you know your students and what they need. Adjust, remove, tweak as necessary for the success and productivity of your student.

Please reach out to me with queries, advice, tips – whatever! You are not alone. Remember, there’s always a reason why the student is doing what he/she is doing. Identify the function of the behavior and provide that student with the intervention to support his/her success in your classroom!

Citations and References

  • [1] Isbister, Katherine. “Fidget Toys Aren’t Just Hype.” Scientific American, 18 May 2017, www.scientificamerican.com/article/fidget-toys-arent-just-hype/.
  • [2] “More Schools Are Banning Fidget Spinners Because They Are ‘Highly Distracting’.” Money, 3 May 2017, money.com/money/4765188/fidget-spinners-ban-schools-classrooms-teachers/?xid=homepage.
  • [3] Editors, ADDitude. “How Fidgeting Promotes Focus.” ADDitude, ADDitude, 20 Feb. 2018, www.additudemag.com/fidgets-adhd-children-focus/.
  • [4] Rotz, Roland, et al. “The Body-Brain Connection: How Fidgeting Sharpens Focus.” ADDitude, ADDitude, 25 Mar. 2019, www.additudemag.com/focus-factors/.

About Taylor Stogsdill

Hi! I'm Teacher Taylor. I teach, travel, and climb. I live for adventure, new experiences, and take pleasure in meeting new people! I share my experiences with anyone who is interested and curious. Teach On. Travel On. Climb On.

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