Fidget spinners – annoying toys or tools for concentration?

Posted: 30 May, 2017

By: Annabella Sequeira

Section: Education, Parenting


Fidget spinners are everywhere! And every child that doesn’t have one wants one. They are just the coolest thing to have right now. As adults, teachers and parents just don’t get it and find them a nuisance as well as distracting. Yet they are no different to past fads such as Yo-yo’s, Silly Bandz and Slime. Fidget spinners actually have a purpose to them, they help children and adults cope with stress, anxiety and sensory processing disorders.
Fidgets have been around for many years, but they have never been as popular as now. As has been the case in the past, the novelty of having these fidgets will wear off, and only the children who really need the fidget will keep it on hand in the future.

What is a fidget?
A fidget is a small object that keeps one’s hands busy, while reading, listening or working. They equate to twirling one’s hair around your finger, biting on pencils, rocking chairs, tapping pencils, getting up every 5 minutes to drink water and tapping one’s foot on the floor while trying to attend to a task at hand. In all these examples there is a need to move in order to focus while doing a task.

Fidgets provide us with that subtle movement and touch input that helps to calm the nervous system. Movement is the most powerful tool that we have to stay focused and attentive on a task at hand, and fidgets provide us with an outlet for small, inconspicuous movements while one is working. Directed and purposeful movement is known to enhance learning as both sides of the brain are called into action.

Why the need to fidget?
Children are expected to sit for longer during their school day, and they are expected to maintain an upright sitting posture against the force of gravity. Fidgeting is a strong sign that our children are not getting enough movement opportunities in the day. When a child fidgets, the teacher naturally tells the child to stop, which then leads to the child being distracted and unable to do what is expected of him. The child is not getting enough sensory input to stay alert.

Add constant sensory input, which leads to sensory overload and the child who is easily overwhelmed, fidgets as he/she is getting his body ready to fight the sensory overload.

Fidgets form part of our Sensory Intelligence® Toolbox, they add meaningful sensory input for attention and for calming the nervous system. Understanding and managing their use is vital in order for them to have the desired impact in the classroom or at home while studying.

Set up clear rules for fidgets at school and at home.
1. Fidgets (spinners, cubes, clips, stress balls, etc.) are tools, not toys! Be mindful of when a child really needs it, work out when it is most beneficial and only use it will help the child regulate and focus.
2. Don’t use it if the fidget distracts others, or if it interferes with other children’s ability to do their work – find another fidget or strategy.
3. When you are done with the fidget, put it away where it belongs. Only take it out again when it is needed.
4. You should not need to look at your fidget when you are working – if you are looking at it, you are not paying attention.
5. It must stay in your hand or on your desk – it is not to be thrown around, dropped or bounced.

In order for children to learn, they need to be able to focus and, in order for them to be able to focus and attend to the task at hand, they need to move! Fidget spinners and other tools allow for this in a quiet and less conspicuous way. Once the “fad” is over, we will see fewer spinners in the classrooms and only the children who need them will keep them handy.

Annabella Sequeira holds a BSc (Occupational Therapy) degree from the University of Cape Town, backed by 22 years of experience in both the public and the private sectors. She has extensive practical experience in the area of Sensory Integrative Dysfunction in children and is passionate about empowering others to improve functionality and quality of life.

Who has benefited

Sensory Quiz™
Sensory Matrix™
Senses on Call™
Social media
Sensory Intelligence®