Fidget toys are a great way to encourage engaged listening and provide a subtle distraction that can allow children with certain sensory processing disorders to better maintain focus. Fidgeting has been proven to help children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. Read on to learn more about fidget toys, how they can help students, and how to implement them into the classroom without disturbing the peace.
WHAT ARE FIDGET TOYS?
Fidget toys comes in various shapes, sizes, and textures and are designed to promote movement while encouraging active learning and listening. Fidgets can be purchased or made and shouldn’t produce noise. Fidgets should be small and able to be used without causing distractions to others. Fidget balls, stress balls, bike chain fidgets, and fidget cubes are just some of the examples of fidget toys.
WHO DO FIDGET TOYS HELP?
Every teacher has at least one student who constantly gets up to sharpen a pencil, get a drink of water, etc. Fidget toys can aid students with sensory processing disorders, ADHD, or even students who exhibit stress and anxiety. Fidgets keep the body active, making room for the student to better engage in communication, reading, and listening.
WHY DO FIDGET TOYS HELP?
Tactile input, movement, and sensory integration have been proven to help control a restless body and improve learning in the classroom. Children who can’t seem to stay in their seats will benefit from fidgets because it will encourage quiet body movement while still providing high sensory input. Movement is important to learning because it requires both the left and right brain hemispheres to be active. Minds becomes more organized the more sensory input they receive.. Hands are particularly important to self-regulating the nervous system, which makes small fidget toys valuable for classroom learning.
INTRODUCING FIDGET TOYS INTO THE CLASSROOM
It’s great to understand that fidget toys can help the restless student, but how can you integrate these toys into the classroom without causing a disturbance or distraction to others? The Inspired Treehouse offers great tips and suggestions for teachers for how to successfully introduce fidget toys into the classroom, in order to create a positive environment for classes with diverse learning styles.
INTRODUCE THE SENSORY SYSTEMS TO THE CLASSROOM
It’s important to introduce the sensory systems to the classroom and explain and experiment with sensory processing and sensory input. Allow children to play around and get hands-on experience with the senses. The way of teaching five senses is over—there are seven sensory systems that The Inspired Treehouse refers to as the “Magic 7”, which includes the vestibular (movement or balance) sense and proprioception, which is the ability to sense parts of the body in relation to itself. Inspired Treehouse also sells a guide on the Magic 7 that includes lesson plans for introducing children to the sensory systems.
ALLOW CHILDREN TO DISCOVER THEIR OWN PREFERENCES
Once your class has learned about the sensory systems and how they manifest, you can begin to teach individualism and explain that we all have our own unique sensory needs. Take this time to show that these differences in sensory needs are what make us special and are a normal part of being human. This is also a great time to have a discussion about feelings about sensory experiences, positive and negative
At this point, you can start to piece together a list of preferences and needs of the classroom so you can brainstorm what fidget toys will meet the needs of the group.
AVOID USING THE WORD “TOY”
When engaging in a classroom discussion about sensory needs, it’s best to stop referring to fidgets or fidget toys as toys. Change your language and start referring to these fidgets as “tools”. This will help students learn that fidgets are to aid in their personal focus and learning and are not to be a distracting toy.
GENERATE A LIST AND CREATE A CLASSROOM SENSORY KIT
Now that you’ve had a classroom discussion about sensory preferences, you can create a list of items that you can include in a sensory kit available to everyone in the classroom. Having a collection of varied items will ensure that students will have options and not get bored.
Here are some great fidget tool suggestions:
- Balloons filled with flour, oatmeal, or an empty balloon that you can stretch
- Fidget Balls
- Rubber bands or hair bands
- Koosh balls
- Silly Putty
- Stress balls
- Nut and bolt toys
- Finger springs
- Wikki Stix
- Smooth worry stones
- Loop Velcro adhered under a desk
- Paper clips
- Hoberman spheres
- Legos to put together and pull apart
Make and assemble your classroom sensory kit tools and put them together in a box to be used when a student feels she/he needs it.
DIY FIDGET TOYS ARE A GREAT CLASSROOM PROJECT
While you may want to purchase some fidget tools, it can be a great classroom project to make your own fidget tools. It’s a great opportunity to get hands-on and get your students working together. If you can, take your class on an outing to go find smooth stones.
MAKE A CLASSROOM CONTRACT
At this point, you have a great toolkit for your classroom, but you need to set guidelines that the class will have to follow. It’s a good idea to distinguish between items to use during lessons and items to use during breaks, as some tools may be distracting during lessons. Determine how children can access materials and remind them that the fidget tools are for everyone and must be shared. You may also want to include a reminder to take good care of the tools, because they belong to everybody. Check out this sample contract and use it if works for your classroom!
BASIC RULES TO IMPLEMENT WHEN INTRODUCING FIDGETS INTO YOUR CLASSROOM:
- “Tools” not toys – do you truly need the fidget? It’s very important that children see fidgets as “tools” and not toys. They should only use the fidget if it will help them focus and be more productive.
- If the fidget is seen as being a distraction or is being “played” with, it will be taken away.
- Don’t distract others with your fidget.
- Put the fidget back where you got it when you’re finished.
Fidget toys can really make a difference in the learning experience of a child with sensory processing issues, but it’s important to monitor the use of the fidget toys so they don’t become an additional distraction to that student or to others. Pre-planning and taking the time to introduce fidget toys into the classroom will produce a more organized classroom and hopefully help students develop a better understanding of their own sensory needs.