Sunday, April 23, 2017

The Fidget Fad

Trying to teach middle school students the last weeks of school is always a challenge, even for veteran teachers like me. However, this spring a popular gadget is interfering with the learning process, despite its inflated claims of being a panacea for students with special needs. Advertised as the “must have toy for 2017,” fidget spinners are appearing in classrooms, much to the dismay of many teachers. While these handheld plastic flat triads with three bearings that can be spun supposedly help students with ADD, ADHD, OCD, autism, and anxiety, they are creating anxiety for many of the teachers whose students are bringing them to class.

Despite no studies showing their effectiveness, these fidget toys claim to relieve and reduce stress and anxiety, increase focus, build concentration, and help with boredom and restless hands. Some companies even market the fidget spinners as “educational toys.” The fidget spinners are also described as “addictive,” the one adjective I will agree is true. The low cost of these spinners––anywhere from $1-20, with most priced around $5––makes them affordable for nearly all students. The fidget spinner takes the place of the typical spring appearance of rubber bands to shoot, paper airplanes to throw, or the ever-popular erasers to toss. However, students claim they need these spinners to focus and be calm. Either they bought the hype or think that their teachers are that gullible.

To summarize, a fidget spinner is an attractive nuisance. If one kid has a spinner, everyone in the class wants to see it, touch it, spin it; they are mesmerized by these gadgets. They want to pass them around so that everyone can enjoy all the benefits of these miraculous inventions. Certainly, this does help them with boredom, as the ads claim, yet their focus and concentration are upon a stupid piece of plastic with metal bearings and not on what they are supposed to be learning in class.

Moreover, the sound of the spinning bearings poses a distraction. One ad claims that the low humming sound actually “helps promote a sense of calm.” As the teacher, that humming sound makes me want to take that spinner and throw it out the window, so it clearly fails to calm me. I suppose these fidget toys have become necessary because students cannot bring their phones or video games to class, and they simply do not know what to do with their hands when they aren’t holding an electronic device to entertain themselves.
Yet another disruptive fidget toy appearing in classes this year with similar claims of positive effects is the fidget block. Ranging in cost from $5-10, these cubes have various buttons and knobs on each of the six sides to provide sensory stimulation. While some of these fidget blocks claim to be silent, others make the same annoying sound made by the clicking of a retractable ink pen. Of course, one of the problems with the fidget spinners or blocks is the potential for dropping the item, which proves distracting for the entire class. However, these fidgets are slightly better than stress balls that roll down the aisles.

As an autism mom, I understand that some children do need sensory toys to help them focus and/or remain calm. However, as a teacher, I see many students jumping on the sensory issues bandwagon who don’t really need a fidget toy but just want to have something to play with in class. Because teachers must protect the privacy of our special needs students who are mainstreamed, regulating the presence of sensory toys becomes problematic. Consequently, I’ve had to accept the fidget toys so long as they remain in the owner’s hands and are used properly. However, when they start sharing their spinners with their friends and or taking them apart, they become mine until class is over.

If, indeed, students truly need to have sensory toys, I would recommend the following alternatives: pool splash balls, squeeze blocks that look like Legos, and desk buddy rulers. The advantage that all three of these items have is that they do not roll, would not inflict injury if tossed across the room, are silent, cannot be taken apart into pieces, are inexpensive, and have actual sensory value to students with sensory needs. The splash balls intended for playing in swimming pools are made of soft material lightly stuffed with polyester filling. They are lightweight, smooth to the touch, squeezable, and unlike stress balls, cannot roll easily. Squeeze blocks offer the same benefits. Desk Buddy rulers offer the various tactile stimulation of a fidget cube without the noise or likelihood of falling off the desk and rolling on the floor. If parents are considering buying sensory stimulation toys for their children with autism or ADD/ADHD, I would recommend any of these three items instead of the fidget spinners and cubes.

While students who actually have stress, anxiety, and focusing issues should have their needs met, those claiming to have these problems should not be playing with toys that distract them, their classmates, and their teachers. Good alternatives exist for students who truly need sensory stimulation, and parents and teachers should seek these items instead. Fortunately, teen fads rarely last long, and spinners will likely spin out of favor just as quickly as they arrived in classrooms this spring. After dealing with students doing the "dab" dance arm movements in the fall, we teachers know that annoying fads will eventually go away and be replaced by something equally annoying. In the meantime, we secretly hope that those parents who bought their children fidget spinners and cubes will be treated to a summer of humming and clicking and dropping them so that they can understand why we found these toys so annoying in our classrooms this spring.

“Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying.” Romans 12:12


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Unknown said...

Love this article, it is spot on

Steve T said...

great job on article

Pam Byrne said...

Thanks for all the the nice compliments on this article!

Take care,

Chris Lothian said...

my son has one of these fidget spinners, his teacher also has one, She is using it as a tool to help learn in class. He bought it from