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Classroom Fidgets: Are They Tools or Toys?

Fidgets are everywhere- especially this time of year. It’s likely that your own students or children just received some of their own fidget toys as stocking stuffers. Kids love them, but teachers often find them to be too distracting for regular use in the classroom. 

Parents are understandably caught in the middle, wanting their kids to have access to tools they need to be successful, especially if they struggle with ADHD, anxiety, or other sensory input needs, but are often informed they are not allowed in their child’s classroom. 

If you have experienced mixed messages about fidgets,  I have good news and bad news.

The Good News – There IS a happy medium to finding Good Fidgets that will enhance kids’ ability to learn, without taking away from a teacher’s ability to make the most of instructional time. 

The Bad News– There are a lot of toys out there that are marketed for classroom use, but really need to stay at home. And that can cause confusion and frustration when we don’t have the big picture.

I want to help you understand the pros and cons of fidgets in the classroom, identify types of useful fidgets vs the toys that don’t belong in the classroom, and I’ll share some research-based information to share with families about fidgets so teachers can feel better about setting boundaries, and parents know they are advocating in the best interest of their kids.

The Pros and Cons of Fidgets 

Let’s get right into the science behind fidgets to explain what works and what doesn’t. According to this article from Scientific American, all kinds of fidgets have been studied and shown to be beneficial for adult use. For kids, the broad evidence is not definitive, but there are clear connections between specific kinds of fidgets and improved focus/decreased anxiety during learning. 

So why are teachers taking them away? Sometimes what we think of as fidgets aren’t really tools, but are toys marketed to kids with bright colors and fun features. Which makes them likely to actually increase distraction in the classroom for the user and students around them. In adult work settings, when people are working more independent, and have fully developed brains and systems, fidgets function differently. For kids, fidgets are definitely not a one-size-fits-all solution. But, there are some great ways to incorporate fidgets into the classroom in a way that works for everybody.

There are a ton of therapeutic fidgets that have been in use in the classroom for years! These cut down on distraction and anxiety discreetly and don’t require hand-eye coordination, so attention can be fully focused on instruction. These include tools like:

  • Therapy putty
  • Single sided Velcro
  • Stress Balls
  • Hand loopers, 
  • Tactile tools
  • Exercise balls
  • Weighted lap pads
  • Coiled keychains

Providing tools like this decreases anxiety and increases attention to instructional tasks without distracting other students, so they can be used with a lot more frequently throughout the day.

How to Tell if it’s a Useful Fidget or a Toy

The purpose of fidgets in the classroom is to help kids function better with academic tasks. If a fidget requires hand-eye coordination, kids can’t look and listen to their teacher while using it. 

These toys can be good for reducing anxiety but are not great for focus during a lesson. A fidget is inappropriate for the classroom if it:

  • Makes noise 
  • Takes attention away from instruction
  • Pulls in the attention of other students nearby
  • Doesn’t meet your student’s sensory needs 
  • Is more advanced than your student’s fine motor skills
  • Is flimsy or easily broken

How Parents and Teachers can Work Together to find Solutions

Parents and teachers can work as a team when it comes to the task of choosing appropriate fidget toys for their child.  Oftentimes, it will take some trial and error to find a good fit for each child, and there may also be a period during the day when a child can use a non therapeutic toy to ease anxiety during breaks or other times during the day. Ultimately, the teacher should be entrusted to find what works best for who and when, and it should be their choice about how to set boundaries with fidgets inside their classroom so that all students’ needs are met.

Looking for more tips on creating a calm and happy classroom? Check out my other posts on Classroom Management and grab some freebies below!

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