Almost 20 years ago, I was walking around Longwood Gardens at the holidays. If you’ve ever been there during Christmas time, you know that they basically herd you through a prescribed course and it is quite crowded. As we were walking, I kept hearing this little, “clink, clink, clink” but couldn’t figure out what it was.
Near the end, I found the answer. A young man, presumably with autism or some type of anxiety disorder, had a little set of keys on a chain and he was purposefully clinking them together. It obviously gave him comfort during what could be a stressful outing, and allowed the entire family to enjoy the holiday display.
Who knew his parents were such trendsetters….well ahead of their time, in giving their son a “fidget” toy? Now they are all the rage, among all kids, not just those with special needs.
They seem harmless enough, right? And only a few dollars, so why not? My non-disabled son has been begging me for one for days. I’m not buying it anytime soon, only because he just had his birthday and Easter, and we do not buy things “just because we want them.” But before you shell out a few bucks, here are some things to consider.
What is a fidget toy? Do they work?
From Google: Fidget toys are self-regulation tools to help with focus, attention, calming, and active listening. … Stress balls, tangles, and squigglets can all be used as fidget toys to promote movement and tactile input that is critical for some student’s learning.
Anecdotally, it appears that they work. There aren’t many studies out yet about them, but many teachers will tell you that they do help certain children. Those otherwise restless children are no longer kicking the desk, asking to go to the bathroom 1000x or just otherwise being restless.
So what’s the problem?
Well, they can be a distraction. And like many other popular “toys” of their time, they can be disruptive. It seems all the kids want a fidget toy these days. And, of course they compare what kind, what color, how well they spin….all of which has nothing to do with the original purpose of the fidget, for the kid who actually needs it.
My other issue is this. And this is the part that will probably generate some email and negative comments. But for some, and note, I said SOME, not ALL….it will make lazy parents lazier, it’s a quick fix.
Today, our students spend more time in seat work and in teacher-led activities than ever before. Compared to twenty years ago:
Researchers have demonstrated that five-year-olds are spending more time engaged in teacher-led academic learning activities than play-based learning opportunities that facilitate child-initiated investigations and foster social development among peers.
So basically we’re asking grade schoolers, who by design are not meant to sit still, to sit still for unreasonable amounts of time. And when they get restless? “Here, have a fidget.”
This is the same generation of parents who said, “Here, have an ipad/DVD player” to the kid who doesn’t like riding in the car. These same parents make sure that their kids always have a container of snacks handy so they don’t even have the chance to get hungry….then we ponder inactivity and childhood obesity. Kids need less stuff, not more.
Am I making sense? Because it makes sense in my head and I feel like I’m not articulating it well. I guess what worries me is that we are such a “quick fix” society, that this will become another quick fix.
Sometimes, a quick fix is all it takes. I understand in some situations, it is completely helpful and appropriate to have this in a 504 or IEP as an accommodation. But my fear is that in too many situations, we won’t get to the root of the issue. “Here, have a fidget.”
Elementary kids today get less recess time than they did in previous generations. Less outdoor play time. Less free play. Less unstructured time. Less unstructured play time. We give our kids zero time to be bored, or even allow them to be bored…and when they’re bored and restless? “Here, have a fidget.”
In addition to kids being allowed to have these fidget toys if they need them, I would just love to see our society move towards more unstructured play time. More guided learning, guided instruction but with more self discovery….less directive. In college and in all the workshops I’ve been to, we’ve been told time and time again, that of all the types of teaching and learning, a teacher standing at the front of the classroom talking is the least effective way a student learns. So why do we do it? It’s easy and it allows for a larger volume of content to be distributed. And if the kid gets bored? “Here, have a fidget.”
I guess what I’m trying to say is, sure, get a fidget toy. But please don’t let it be your only solution. Or even your first solution. Try movement breaks, an extra recess, less homework and more unstructured time at home. Try delivering the content differently.
If your child does not have a condition or disability that necessitates a fidget, don’t send it to school. Or, I should say, follow all applicable rules and policies as far as bring toys and personal items to school. Some children genuinely need them, and when other kids are fighting over them or they become distractions, it makes the teachers’ job harder. Sometimes kids get things in their IEP that are perceived as fun/toys to others. That’s just the way it is. Most IEP moms I know would trade their right arm to not have to have an IEP for their child, so please don’t insult us with “it’s not fair.” Life rarely is.
What’s your take? Fidget or no fidget? Have you tried other strategies?
Edited to add: This teacher agrees with me.