What’s the big deal?
In my position, I get to spend lots of time working with schools to do two things: first, I help create a trauma informed lens which they can teach and view students through, and then we equip teachers with practical strategies that will benefit their students. One of these strategies we’ve implemented for the last several years has been fidgets. The slogan I always use when talking about all fidgets is that they are “tools not toys.”
Without going too much into the science, when someone is dysregulated (whether do to past traumatic experiences, an unstable home-life, or even every-day stress) they are naturally relying more heavily on the lower regions of the brain. This causes them to be more reactive and impulsive, rather than people who make thoughtful decisions. One way to help someone regulate and move back up to the higher brain regions is through interventions that calm those lower regions of the brain.
Here’s where fidgets come in.
Notable portions of our brains are dedicated to our hands, so when you get something in your hands and work with it, you actually healthfully stimulate those lower brain regions, calming them down. This aids you in the process of getting back up to the more calm states of your brain, or at the very least, prevents you from becoming more dysregulated.
This was all well and good until about 8 months ago, when Fidget Spinners (only one of many types of fidgets) became an overnight sensation. For me, this lead to countless conversations focused on fidgets and Fidget Spinners. Below is a summary of my thoughts and the many conversations I have had around fidget spinners.
Not all fidgets are created equally
Different fidgets serve different purposes. I have heard several times that hard fidgets help to wake you and keep you focused, and soft or moldable fidgets help to calm you down and regulate you. While I can think of several students who were exceptions to this, it is a decent rule of thumb. What’s most important to recognize is that different fidgets serve different purposes. Some fidgets will work for some people but there’s no “one fidget fits all.” Additionally, you need to weigh out some of the pros and cons. If it helps one student, but distracts 3 others, that’s obviously a problem.
Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater
In my opinion, the biggest mistake you can make is to say these fidget spinners are a problem, therefore we now need to ban all fidgets. I have found that when a student has an intervention that works for them, they use it appropriately. If a student does not use their fidget spinner appropriately, have them put it away, and then work with them to find something that would be better suited for them. Not every student needs a fidget, but I would give a student several tries with several different kinds of fidgets before making a blanket rule that they cannot have any.
The proof is in the pudding
When I first began allowing my students to use fidgets, it was a big adjustment. It looked like they were playing, some of them were looking at the fidget and not at me, and this was hard to get used to. But, I had to remind myself that my job was not to “look” like a good teacher, with my students sitting upright, hands folded, and watching me with perfect focus, but rather, my job was to make sure my students were learning. So, I would ask them questions throughout class, lots of questions, and if they were responsive and clearly knew what we were talking about in class, I was doing my job and my students were learning. Obviously, when it is time to write, you need to make sure the fidgets go down and the pens comes up, but overall the classroom can look different than you expect and you and your students can still meet all your goals.
With all of this said, my opinion is that Fidget Spinners are fine. They are one great fidget to add to your arsenal of fidgets for your students. I think they are helpful and fun to use (I used one while writing this post!) but they are certainly not the answer for every child. The problem with them is how they were introduced to students. They rolled out as the newest sensational toy. I believe and have seen from first-hand experience, that if you present fidgets as tools and not toys, if you explain to your students that they are something you believe will help them to be more successful, then you will see your students use them more responsibly. It is good and sometimes even necessary to put expectations and parameters around them, but while you’re working out your parameters, consider how beneficial they, and other fidgets can be for your students.
Josh MacNeill, Director of NeuroLogic Initiative