Fidget Toys in and out of the Classroom

In the recent past, fidget toys have been the answer to an age-old problem: how to keep kids focused and behaved in settings and situations that are challenging. Teachers now experiment with using fidget toys in the classroom to help kids stay on track while listening to lectures and working on assignments. Many have found that fidget toys are just what developing brains need to pay better attention to academic endeavors. Fidget toys are not limited to classroom use, however. Plenty of situations outside of school exist in which a fidget toy may encourage appropriate behaviors.

Why Introduce Fidget Toys?

For starters, fidget toys are an inexpensive way to get a child engaged with homework. While some people bounce a foot to maintain focus, others need something else to help them manage sensory information. Fidget spinners, putty slime, or squishies give kids the option to move while they focus. Typically, children can maintain focus for roughly ten minutes before their bodies begin to fidget. Homework can require a lot more time than that! The fidget toys help by increasing the brain’s alertness.

Every individual needs just the right amount of arousal to be able to attend to seated activities like reading. Chewing gum may be all that some need to get through a long novel; others must keep their hands busy as they read page after page. A fidget toy may be able to keep a child calm while reading so he or she can finish a book without it being a struggle. Likewise, fidget toys are a great way to busy a child’s hands while listening to a story being read aloud by a teacher or caregiver.

Trips and Beyond

Fidgets are great to take along on trips, too. Their small size makes them easily portable. Buckling up for a long car ride can cause a child stress, anxiety, or boredom. With their bodies limited in mobility, it does not take long for inappropriate behavioral responses to occur. Playing with a fidget toy may be a coping skill that can help in these situations. Bring along a fidget toy the next time you travel by train, plane, or automobile to help your child feel more at ease.

Since fidget toys make little to no noise, they are a great option for children to bring along to a place where they will be expected to remain quiet for an extended period. The sensations the toys cause children to feel can keep kids calm and occupied as you wait to visit a doctor, get a haircut, or be seated at a restaurant. It may even be a good idea for your child to access a fidget toy during special services and ceremonies. At many of these events, children are outnumbered by adults. Weddings and funerals are not as kid-friendly as birthday parties and family reunions, and many attendees hold the philosophy that children should be seen and not heard. The gentle hum of a fidget spinner will always be more welcomed than a wailing, cranky child.

Use in School

In the classroom, many kids quietly handle fidget toys while listening to their teachers’ lecture or their peers’ presentations. It is allowed for some kids who have learning disabilities or behavioral disorders. It is even often tolerated for those without an IEP or 504 Plan. That is because schools know fidget toys can help keep a child attentive without becoming a distraction to others. For this reason, your child may find a fidget toy helpful when listening to an expert at a museum or watching a movie at the theater.

Managing sensory input can be difficult for a developing child to do – it is even a challenge for adults at times! One does not have to be on the autism spectrum or have an attention disorder to be prescribed a coping skill to use when attention needs refocusing. We all are subject to situations when a coping skill is needed. Like twirling a pencil or twisting a lock of hair, using a squishy or spinning a fidget toy are both coping mechanisms to try. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to maintaining focus or keeping our behaviors under control. A refocusing activity that works for one might not work for another. Likewise, different fidget toys work for different kids. Sometimes the toy’s physical characteristics like its shape or texture will make the fidget toy a success or failure for a child. The next time you foresee your child preparing to engage in a situation that might challenge his or her behavior or attention, present the child with a fidget toy and see what results.