By Courtney Bills and Tera Robinson
We are right in the middle of the fidget spinner craze! The debates and rants have died down a bit because school is out for summer and no one has a problem if children are paying more attention to their fidget spinner than they are to their screens. Or the fidget spinners are inside while the kids are swimming, riding bikes and playing at the park. But… School starts soon and the discussion will surely fire back up! Hopefully, this post will help give some thought and good ideas to implement and help calm the craze, especially in our classrooms.
This time, I’ve teamed up with an amazing elementary teacher with 15 years of experience in classrooms, Courtney Bills. She has used fidgets in her classroom and gets everyday practice to implement sensory strategies into her teaching as she works with students, teachers and her own children who have sensory processing difficulties. We’ve collaborated together to help students and teachers for several years and she has some great ideas to successfully implement fidgets in classrooms. Courtney is going to share HOW she implements fidgets into her classroom at the end of this article.
*This post contains Amazon affiliate links as a convenient way to find products and tools recommended.
WHY USE FIDGETS IN THE CLASSROOM? (by Tera)
A fidget is one of many tools that helps students self-regulate their attention, behavior and learning. Fidget spinner marketers have done a fabulous job in gaining the attention of the general public about something people have been doing for ages and that occupational therapists have been recommending for decades! You’ve already seen fidgets in many forms, even before the invention of the fidget spinner! Twirling hair, tapping fingers, bouncing knees, clicking pens, doodling…
Fidgets can help a person who is having difficulty paying attention, holding still, or behaving appropriately to seek out movement (vestibular), muscle (proprioceptive) and touch (tactile) sensory input that will keep them alert, attentive and maintain appropriate interactions during important daily activities. For students in a classroom, appropriate daily activities would include sitting still, paying attention, listening to the teacher, following directions, staying on task, completing work assignments and participating appropriately in classroom activities with others nearby.
Maybe you know a student or two or three… who may struggle with some of these appropriate classroom behaviors. Students with the following behaviors would benefit from using a fidget:
- difficulty paying attention, listening and following directions
- difficulty maintaining alertness (may exhibit “dazed” looks)
- difficulty holding still or staying in his/her seat
- difficulty keeping hands to her/himself and staying in his/her own space
WHAT FIDGETS WORK IN THE CLASSROOM? (by Tera)
The key to a successful classroom fidget is that it that works as a tool, not a toy. Each student will respond differently to different fidgets. I’ve seen a variety of fidgets work very successfully in classrooms, including simple fidget spinners for a student or two and fidget cubes for a few more, but the key is still that it is used as a tool, NOT a toy. Students have many other classroom tools such as pencils, crayons, scissors, paper, desks, chairs, books, computers, iPads… Teachers teach and maintain guidelines about appropriately using these classroom tools and not allowing them to become toys. (A few examples: A pencil is for writing, not sword fighting. Scissors are for cutting paper, not hair.) Teachers should also teach and maintain guidelines for classroom fidget tools. A successful fidget tool will not be the focus of a student’s attention, but will be used in the background with the focus of attention being given to the instruction, activities and learning in the classroom. Students should be able to answer questions, participate appropriately and not disturb others in the learning taking place while using the fidget. One reminder is that novelty will always create excitement, but once it is consistently used in the classroom, the excitement wears off. So if fidgets are used consistently in the classroom, they will become old news to many students and the ones who need them will keep coming back for them.
I really love this video that explains and gives guidelines on how to use fidgets in the classroom as a tool and not a toy: Long Story Shorts – Fidgets. Teachers and parents, show this to your students so they can learn how to use a fidget effectively to help them learn!
There are a few practical considerations to take into account when choosing fidgets for the classroom:
- Price is important in a full classroom of young students. Expect that fidgets will be lost and need to be replaced, so I try to only buy fidgets that are about $3 or less.
- The ability to use hands for learning activities is another important factor. Fidgets requiring two hands are fine for listening and discussion, but if a student is writing, at least one hand should be free to use a pencil. You can add a clip to tie to belt loops or a pencil topper fidget to avoid dropping or losing the fidget.
- Simple and plain is best for classroom fidgets. Remember that fidgets should NOT be the focus of a student’s attention, so entertaining factors, such as stress balls with eyes that pop out when squeezing or bright, flashing lights or any noisy fidget, should be avoided in the classroom.
Several of my awesome teacher friends have helped me create a list of their most successful fidgets of the many that I’ve recommended in their classrooms over the past few years.
HOW CAN FIDGETS BE USED SUCCESSFULLY IN THE CLASSROOM? (by Courtney)
Although many children can be taught in a traditional classroom without modifications, many children will find greater success with simple classroom adjustments. I have found that providing opportunities for children to discover their personal sensory needs enhances their learning, their motivation to learn, and their engagement in instruction.
I have learned a few things over the years in using fidgets and other sensory strategies in my classroom: (Although this article is specific for fidgets, all points in this section can be applied to any sensory strategy, such as seating options and brain breaks, used in the classroom.)
- All fidgets should be taught with procedures and purpose just like turning in an assignment, sharpening pencils or lining up. You can eliminate almost all misuse of fidgets with proper training and procedures.
- Provide more fidgets than children. Only a handful of children will “need” a fidget during carpet time, but if all children have the option, no one feels different or singled out.
- Don’t use fidgets as a punishment for not being able to sit still or poor behavior.
- Don’t take away fidgets for not following directions, using fidgets incorrectly, or not sitting still. Don’t misinterpret the fidget to be the cause of poor behavior, but lack of training and understanding the proper use of fidgets.
- Most importantly, help children self-regulate and recognize when and if a particular fidget is helping him/her engage in the learning.
To help students learn how to self-regulate by using fidgets, ask questions such as:
- How did having this fidget help you participate during carpet time?
- Why did you choose to use this fidget to do your assignment today? Did it help you or distract you?
- What fidget could you try next time that may help you stay focused?
- I noticed that this fidget seemed to help you get your work done. How did it make you feel inside? Why do you think it helped you?
Fidgets are one of many sensory strategies that we use to support student success at school. Ask your occupational therapist for recommendations to meet the specific needs of your individual child or student. You may also be interested in learning about the importance of full recesses and seating options for sensory strategies to be used in combination with fidgets at school.
Courtney Bills is a wife and mom of three awesome kids with their own individual sensory needs. She has taught in elementary classrooms for many years and is now a National Educational Consultant, with a focus on literacy instruction through C & B Reading, LLC. She works locally in Utah to help integrate an inclusion model for all students by providing necessary accommodations in the classroom for engagement and success of all learners.
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