Fidget spinners – tiresome trend or teaching tool? Speech and language therapist perspective

Fidget spinners – the latest trend amongst children, now also causing a media frenzy. We have browsed the internet to summarise for you where fidget spinners came from, why schools are having issues for them, and some surprising benefits.  Plus, my top homemade fiddle toys.

Media Frenzy for Fidget spinners

The Telegraph provide a beginners guide to what a fidget spinner is, in case you don’t know any school-aged children but want to get involved with this craze!

The idea that fiddling helps some people focus their attention is not a new one.  Children have been using fiddle toys in classrooms for years, and they’ve also started popping up on adult training courses.  Personal experience has shown me how useful they can be for children (and adults) of all ages when listening demands are high, and social media is awash at the moment with similar anecdotal evidence supporting the use of fiddle toys.  The Guardian encourages you to ask yourself if you twiddle your pen when talking on the phone, and consider the benefits of fiddle toys for many of us.  Sarver et al (2015) found that for children with ADHD, more movement during a task predicted better results in a working memory task.  Website ‘Occupational Therapy for Children’  explains some of the science behind fiddling, as well as giving some examples of different kinds of fiddle toys.  are worried that fidget spinners may be seen as a ‘quick fix’ for attention or anxiety problems, and say that they are a distraction rather than helping a child concentrate.  However, remind us that sometimes a distraction might be exactly what’s needed for a child with anxiety, other mental health or sensory issues

So what’s the problem with them?

Fidget spinners have been accused of distracting other children in the classroom, as instead of just spinning them on the tabletop, children are trading and doing tricks with them during lessons.  Unlike many other fiddle toys, fidget spinners make a noise when they spin, and can’t be used discreetly under the table.  One Year 7 student found them so distracting she wrote to her headteacher to ask him to ban them.

Surprise benefits?

Let’s remind ourselves what these children might be doing if they weren’t showing off fidget spinner tricks.  Might this real-world interaction be better than the alternative of playing another level on a smartphone game, or watching another YouTube video?  Alex Fitzpatrick of argues that if fidget spinners fill that bit of time when you’d normally reach for your phone (checking social media for the umpteenth time), this isn’t a bad thing.

For children who need to use a fiddle toy to calm down or concentrate, this craze might make them feel happier about using it in the classroom.  There’s a great infographic circulating on Facebook urging parents to use their child’s interest in fidget spinners to start a conversation about the needs of children with ASD and ADHD, and to consider how they could help.

Homemade fidgets

You can buy a whole range of fiddle toys online, but you can also make your own!  The best fiddle toys are quiet, strong and sturdy so they can survive many ‘fiddles’ a day, and able to be used subtly without distracting others.  I’ve challenged some of my students to make up their own fiddle toys.  Some of our favourites: My final thoughts having read the articles, and looked into the research: whilst fidget spinners themselves might not be the best tool for it, there is at least anecdotal evidence that fiddling can help some children listen, or stay calm.

  • A piece of straw on a pipe cleaner, with the ends twisted around to make it safe and stop the straw sliding off
  • A bead on a large paperclip
  • A lump of blue-tac
  • Use K’Nex or Lego Technic wheel and axel pieces to get creative and make a spinning wheel fiddle toy
  • A larger pen lid on top of a pencil
  • A different kind of movement break! Go outside and run around the garden, do star jumps, or twiddle your thumbs

Whilst us adults sometimes pick up and fiddle with items for these purposes (or even subconsciously!), is it fair to stop our children doing the same?  Let’s not demonise all types of fiddle toy as being just a classroom distraction, and use this craze for good where we can!

Written by Alys Mathers, Speech and Language Therapist

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