Invented in the '90s, fidget spinners didn't catch on until this year, making us all the more curious about the latest craze and it's promises.
Marketers claim these toys relieve stress and they advertise them as helping people who have trouble focusing or fidgeting in the classroom (especially for children who have ADHD, autism or anxiety). They are said to act as a release mechanism for nervous energy or psychological stress. This claim has caused some controversy with others arguing that the toy is actually more distracting for the student and the others around them. Teachers are at the frontline of dealing with fidget spinners so who better to ask about the pros and cons of them? Here are some insights from a handful of teachers we talked to about their experiences with fidget spinners over the school year.
When asked about the teacher’s general thoughts on fidget spinners and whether they find them helpful or distracting in the classroom, the consensus was pretty much the same across the board: although the intention for fidget spinners is to help students focus, they are actually distracting.
“I find fidget spinners to be extremely distracting. They are pretty loud so you can hear when a student is spinning them. It is also a huge distraction for the surrounding students,” Ali, an 8th grade teacher from Cooper City, Florida shared. “Students pass them around or have contests to see whose can spin the longest.”
The trend of fidget spinners spread like wild fire over the last school year, not giving teachers and school administrators any time to wrap their heads around these tools and to make rules and regulation for their use in the classroom. We asked teachers what their school policy and classroom policy was on these, and at this point they seemed to be handled on a case by case basis. While some teachers take them away if they are seen in the classroom, others allow them at certain times.
“Yes, I allow them in my class room but only if it is not distracting. If the student is not using it appropriately it is taken away. Usually, the students that can actually use it appropriately don't actually have ADD or ADHD. They just want it for fun. The truly ADHD kids have a hard time following the fidget spinner rules,” Amanda, a teacher who specializes in dyslexia from McKinney, Texas said. “If we [teachers] can see them or hear them they are taken away. Toward the end of the school year teachers were able to decide what their own personal policy was. Some teachers did not allow them at all, while others were more flexible. Some teachers only allowed students that had a documented condition that required a spinner use one. During some standardized tests, students with parent request or special paperwork were able to use stress balls or spinners during a test if they had diagnosed anxiety.”
Teachers were seeing up to 1/3 of their total students in their schools with fidget spinners last school year! This is where the argument comes in: is a fidget spinner a toy or is it a tool? This video explains the differences between a toy and a tool, and how you can decide what is best for your child.
With the popularity increasing, fidget spinners have become available everywhere. From Amazon, to Big 5 and even gas stations, it’s hard to go to a store and not see these gadgets right by the check out. And due to the popular demand, more parents have been purchasing these for their kids to take to school with them.
“The parents are very supportive of this toy. I hear of parents selling them, giving away as presents or buying multiple for their students. I also heard about a parent who pretty much harassed a teacher for taking away her child's spinner,” Aleeza, an Autism teacher for 1st and 2nd grade in Fort Lauderdale, Florida told us.
And parents are mostly thinking that they are providing support for their child’s attention in the classroom, but teachers use different methods for this already.
“We use various tools to help those that need continuous movement in their hands/overall body,” Aleeza explained. “I also use vibration and other sensory tools for sensory and motor issues within my classroom.”
Amanda also had some alternatives for parents to try to help their child have better attention in the classroom.
“I find that parents are supportive of the toys because they don’t realize the difficulty in trying to teach with 16 out of 20 students spinning a toy around. It is hard enough to keep their attention and even more challenging with the spinners. Parents think it will help their kid, but it really doesn't help us much as if parents were helping with homework, getting their kids to bed on time, sticking to a routine, helping kids study for tests, preparing a good breakfast, and following up with teachers' suggestions for tutoring. These methods are all much more effective in helping their child succeed in school.”
If your child has been diagnosed with ADHD, autism, anxiety or other sensory issues, here are some suggestions from teachers that are alternatives to fidget spinners:
- Movement in the class (not being forced to sit, can stand, walk around a little)
- Vibration vests and pillows
- Weighted vests and belts
- Music in the classroom
- Incorporating inside recess such as yoga, dance breaks, stretch breaks, and singing.
- Stress ball for anxiety
- Worry box (student writes their worries or concerns on paper and puts in a box to feel like they are releasing the stress)
- Extra time to complete assignments
- Frequent breaks
- Hands on activities for learning (incorporating technology & group assignments)
- Writing in a journal to jot down what is causing anxiety
- Counselor lessons about test anxiety and teaching parents about how to avoid putting too much academic pressure on students
- ADHD medication
We’d love to hear your thoughts on fidget spinners! Has your child had success with these as a tool to focus in the classroom and at home? Or do you agree with most teachers that these can be a distraction?