Helpful or Distracting? Fidgets At Schools & Camps

Photo credit: LiveScience

By Gabrielle Kaplan-Meyer

For the last few months, educators and parents across the country have been trying to make sense of the fidget spinner craze. The spinner, which sells at drug and novelty stores and online retailers, has held the number one toy spot on amazon for weeks. If you know an elementary age kid or tween, you’ve probably seen the spinner (and possibly it’s slightly less popular cousin “the fidget cube”), in multiple colors.

A couple of weeks ago when I put out a query about how educators were feeling about fidget spinners in their classrooms on Jedlab, a popular facebook group for Jewish educators, I was surprised to receive 43 comments—many impassioned—about whether or not the spinners were helpful for students with attention issues.

Many Hebrew schools are now closed for the summer, but secular and day school teachers are anticipating the last few weeks of school, when focus is a challenge for everyone. And we know that the spinners will be arriving in the pockets of kids headed to day and overnight camp and that staff may struggle to set guidelines around when and where the spinners can be used. To offer a big picture on not only the spinners but also on the use of fidget tools in general, I’m sharing these insights from a number of Jewish educators.

Understanding Sensory Regulation

While the fidget spinners may seem like a craze that came out of nowhere, the idea of using fidget tools like stress balls to help children with learning, behavior or sensory integration issues isn’t new. Kids (and adults) who have ADHD, sensory processing issues, and/or may be diagnosed on the autism spectrum may need some kind of movement to regulate their sensory systems so that they can focus on what’s happening in the classroom. Some kids can be more attentive when they have small hand movement going on, like squeezing putty, while engaging in a task. Our schools and camps are full of children who may be diagnosed with a specific learning issue and even have fidget tools as part of their learning plans—and other children who may not have a specific diagnosis but whose behavior communicates that they need help with focus and attention.

Taking a step back, it’s helpful for all educators who work with kids to learn more about sensory processing issues and how movement can relate to attention. And remember—supports for sensory processing needs to be determined on an individual basis and fidget toys don’t benefit all kids who have sensory processing issues.

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