Can fidget toys help pupils’ concentration?

Can fidget toys help pupils’ concentration?

Fidget spinners have dropped out of the headlines, but the trend for this type of toy continues, with pupils claiming that they help hone their attention. An article from TES, looks at whether these toys can become classroom concentration tools.

Fidget toys (small, tactile toys that can be moved, stretched or squeezed) often become playground trends. But unlike other trendy objects, these toys are designed with an educational purpose in mind. According to those who make and market them, they are not meant to be used in the playground, but in the classroom, where they can help pupils – particularly those with special educational needs – to concentrate.

So, should schools and teachers think twice before banning these toys from their classrooms? Are the manufacturers right? Do they, in fact, support children to focus?

Much of the research in this area centres on children with attention deficit and hyperactivity disorders (ADHD) – generally accepted to be the learners who are most likely to benefit from the use of such toys.

For example, in 2015, behavioural science professor Julie Schweitzer published a small study that suggested children with ADHD who are supported to bounce, wriggle or otherwise move gently in place have better concentration levels than those who are not.

So, fidget toys can help children to concentrate. But how? The answer lies in understanding exactly what fidgeting is and why it happens, suggests psychologist Carey Heller.

Broadly, fidgeting is defined as making small movements with your body, usually your hands and feet. Everyone fidgets, and there are lots of different reasons for this, Heller explains. For those with ADHD, it can be because they struggle to focus. However, for others, it can be because they are bored or anxious.

“The way you fidget can be different based on the reason the fidget is occurring. Some people just like that extra stimulation, and it could be that the task they are doing isn’t providing enough,” he explains.

“It’s like some people listen to music when they’re working, while others prefer absolute silence. For some people, if the task is not inherently motivating in itself, or not stimulating enough, they may want something extra to do alongside it.

“Essentially, fidgeting creates an external stimulation that, in turn, can make someone feel more interested in the task ahead, so they focus better.”

Fidgeting is a natural occurrence, but it’s an occurrence that has the potential to be disruptive in the classroom. If a pupil is constantly swinging back on their chair or tapping a pencil, this can be distracting to those around them.

Using a fidget toy, the thinking goes, can help to channel a pupil’s need to fidget into a less disruptive movement.

So rather than banning fidget toys outright, perhaps it would be more helpful for schools to stress that these objects should be treated as fidget “tools” – and that, if used, they must be small, simple and kept out of sight.

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