Should schools be banning fidget toys?

May 25, 2017 Published by

Fidget spinners have rapidly become the latest craze in schools. If you haven’t seen one yet, it’s a toy with a central weighted disc you hold between your fingers, while spinning the outside blades. They are marketed as a tool to help the user concentrate or destress.

I first saw the effect of fidget toys last year, when we tested the Twiddle fidget toy, a flexible plastic chain that can be twisted, scrunched, taken apart and snapped back together again. One of our young testers was a boy with anxiety and Autism spectrum disorder (ASD), who rarely stood up and spoke in front of his classmates to present work. He took a liking to the Twiddle so was allowed to take it to class with him.

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Here he surprised his teacher by volunteering to present a piece of work, fiddling with the Twiddle in his hands as he did so to calm his nerves. I was amazed how a simple toy could give a child such confidence.

Fidget toys are often recommended for children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), ASD, or anxiety.

“It’s great to see a toy like this in the mainstream…Children with additional needs often struggle to fit in and be the cool kids, and it’s really nice to see a toy that they have that everybody else wants.” – Dr Amanda Gummer.

Unfortunately, schools are quickly banning fidget spinners from classrooms because they are causing a distraction. Children with special educational needs will still be allowed to use the toys, which means that those on a ‘list’ are once again being singled out – so that stigma is being reintroduced.

The Science of fidgeting

Although there is no strong scientific evidence for the advertised benefits of fidget spinners and other fidget toys, there are a couple of studies out there that suggest fidgeting can help children focus, and calm down.

One suggestion is that while someone is trying to focus on the task at hand, they need to distract the ‘spare’ part of the brain just enough to stop it interrupting those key thoughts. 

Imagine that your brain is a family that needs to make an important decision. If the young children in the family aren’t occupied by toys, they may demand too much attention, interfering with decision making.” – Bruce Y Lee, Forbes – Here’s the Science behind the Fidget Spinner craze

Without an outlet, attention can drift from the task at hand, to daydreaming – which takes up a lot of thinking power. Fidgeting may provide this outlet, because it takes just enough effort to do without becoming a distraction. For example, doodling has been shown to improve memory.

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Fidgeting might also be considered a comforting mini-ritual – like wearing your lucky pants, or listening to a particular song – and rituals have been shown to help with grief, reduce anxiety and increase confidence.

It’s important to remember that the evidence is limited, but it does seem that fidgeting could be a useful way to cope with exam stress or focus on homework.

So between helping children with some special educational needs fit in at school, and the benefits to children’s own anxiety and concentration – should fidget spinners be allowed in schools?

Probably not – realistically, they’re used as a trick toy (like the yo-yos and mini skateboards of my own childhood) rather than a calming ‘fidget toy’. It only takes a few children to cause a distraction to the rest of the class.

But isn’t it good to see children getting enthusiastic about something that isn’t on a screen? Shouldn’t we be encouraging that?

The take home message from this fad is that children do want to play – together, with toys, with energy – and perhaps they’re just not given enough opportunity to do so.


Photo Credit:

Featured Image: Five Dollar Fidget Spinner by Idle Hands Dev

 

 

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This post was written by Anna Taylor

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