Fidget spinners are popping up in classrooms around the country, the latest gadget craze in the endless fascination with objects that click, turn, flip, and spin. While these toys are interesting and provide plenty of fidgeting opportunity, they are not without controversy, particularly in the classroom.
If you believe the marketing, these gadgets help with stress, focus, ADD, ADHD, and the need to wiggle or fidget. From our vantage point as educators, there is no question that these wildly popular fidget toys provide an outlet for active kids. What is in question, however, is whether they actually help or hinder.
Why Do Students Fidget?
It’s true. Some people just need to move. For students with ADD, ADHD, and other sensory issues, movement and tactile interactions are a necessity (Hartanto, Kraft, & Schweitzer, 2016). The Centers for Disease Control states that ADHD is “one of the most widely diagnosed disorders among public [school] students” (Cho & Blair, 2015, p. 227). Students with ADHD exhibit shorter “attentive states during classroom teaching” (Rogers & Meek, 2015, p. 21). The introduction of a noisy gadget that requires effort and focus to operate may upset the balances teachers are striving to achieve in classrooms. The recent controversy of how these toys can create more distraction and complicate classroom management for teachers is underscored by the importance of providing necessary and helpful accommodations while meeting the needs of all students.
Tactile Alternatives to Fidget Spinners
There are many options available that can address the movement and tactile requirements of learners without causing a ruckus or distracting other students. Debbie Lauman of Champions for Children, a non-profit that specializes in programs for at-risk children, suggests opting for the conservative approach first. This includes using objects that offer the same benefits in a less disruptive manner. Some easy-to-use ideas include:
- Stress balls
- Working clay
- Velcro (one side) attached to the inside of a desk
- Small to medium sized square of velvet
- Small square/rectangle of sponge
- Small rectangle of very fine sand paper attached to desk
- Bungee cord strapped across the bottom of the desk for feet
- Koosh ball
- A single bead on a short cord that can slide back and forth
- Headphones with music
- Standing spot designated when needed
These suggestions are always subject to the discretion of the teacher and the particular situation and behavior of each individual student. The idea is to find a way to allow the varying movement and tactile needs of a student to be met that does not hinder learning and productive classroom interactions. Each student’s situation is unique and each classroom is unique, therefore, a variety of possibilities for incorporating small movements and non-disruptive fidgeting is essential.
Environmental Alternatives to Fidget Spinners
There are other research-based strategies for offering support for ADHD students that do not require objects. Studies show that a positive student-teacher relationship can be helpful for students who have this disorder (Rogers & Meek, 2015). By focusing on classroom structure as well as relationships (Rogers & Meek, 2015), the learning environment can be enhanced. Providing opportunities for student choice within assignments gives them validation, a sense of autonomy, and can lead to better performance and functioning in the classroom, as well as improved attitudes toward school. Other research-based strategies include providing short movement breaks during long tasks, breaking larger assignments into smaller portions, and promoting self-monitoring and self-regulating behaviors (Cho & Blair, 2015).
- Forge positive student-teacher relationship
- Adopt private reminder signals between teacher and student
- Give immediate/frequent positive feedback and reinforcement
- Provide choice and flexibility within assignments
- Break assignments into manageable portions
- Plan for short, non-disruptive movement breaks
- Coach students on self-regulation techniques
Non-disruptive fidget objects and behavioral strategies combined offer greater opportunity to accommodate students in an effective manner that maintains a productive learning environment for everyone. Using proven techniques with the right balance between learning needs and goals will enable all students to succeed.
For more details on ADD/ADHD intervention, general behavior, and classroom management strategies, check out the ADD/ADHD Wheel and other teacher resources for your classroom, as well as Mentoring Minds’ Professional Development sessions.
Cho, S. J., & Blair, K. S. C. (2015). Using a multicomponent function-based intervention to support students with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. The Journal of Special Education, 50(4), 227–238. doi: 10.1177/0022466916655186
Rogers, M., & Meek, F. (2015). Relationships matter: Motivating students with ADHD through the teacher-student relationship. Perspectives on Language and Literacy, 41(1), 21–24. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/openview/abf1576dfe9b7fa987b48091abdb 6045/1?pq-origsite=gscholar&cbl=28091