Using fidget toys

Using fidget toys

Rosie and Jo’s Mum

The advent of the fidget cube and the fidget spinner has prompted some interesting online conversations about the need for fidget toys in the classroom.

There are compelling arguments both for and against the use of these toys:

They make noises that can be distracting to other pupils. Clicking pens and tapping feet make noises. Children making tables vibrate by twitching their feet can cause distractions. Other children waking past the classroom window cause distraction. If we are going to start acknowledging that small distractions in the classroom affect learning, we had better make sure that the children whose sensory processing makes them more sensitive to small noises are also considered when minimising them. Or are we only concerned about the distractions caused to the neurotypical children?

Fidgets can help the child using them to concentrate.  If you sit in any large meeting, you will easily pick out the person fiddling with their pen clip, doodling on their notebook, twitching their foot. They don’t do this to distract their colleagues. They do it because they are concentrating. I’ve watched several trainers fiddling with the remote control for the projector when using PowerPoint. Should we ban fiddling, doodling and twitching in meetings too? No? Why not? Perhaps because adults can be trusted to accommodate each other’s needs?

Other pupils will want them. If other children are asking to use them, we need to think about two things. First, is the child who is complaining recognising their own need for a fidget?  Second, is this a good time to have a discussion about why we need to make adjustments to give everyone equality of access?

There isn’t enough evidence that they improve learning. If a child says they help, who are we to argue? It may be that using a fidget toy in  Maths lesson doesn’t improve the child’s Maths results but perhaps the stress reduction helps them cope better in the playground afterwards, supporting their social skills. There’s no guarantee but reducing stress is generally going to have positive outcomes.

It seems clear to me that fidget toys help lots of people, plenty of whom don’t have a diagnosed SEN so maybe we need to change our thinking? What if reasonably quiet fidget toys were available in every classroom, every day so children learned from an early age how to use them to aid their concentration? Would the teenagers currently distracted by fidget cubes and spinners still be craning their necks to see the one their classmate was using? What if teachers modelled then use of them? There can  no doubt that some teachers are helped by them in the same way as some pupils are. What if part of their education was to teach children strategies for managing distraction, equipping them for life in university lectures and meetings way beyond school?

If you watch a group of teenagers using the spinners, it is soon apparent than the conversation isn’t disrupted by the toys. These young people are deeply engaged in their discussion while being apparently unaware of the spinning happening alongside it. They aren’t distracted because the conversation is engaging and the spinner is there constantly so quickly loses its novelty value.

I wonder if the resistance to the use of these fidgets toys comes from a concern about losing control in the classroom environment when, in reality, properly supporting the use of fidgets in schools could mean that students are more engaged, making the classroom easier to manage. If students who find it harder to listen and sit still are able to concentrate more easily, once the novelty value of the gadgets wears off, could we end up with calmer, more inclusive classrooms?

Maybe this is a good opportunity for schools to reflect on why these fidget toys are so popular and consider facilitating the use of the quieter versions in the classroom so that everyone, teachers and pupils, with or without diagnoses of SEND can benefit from them.



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