Sunday, May 14, 2017

How to Keep Fidgets from Overtaking Your Classroom

This fidget would do more to distract me
than to help me focus.
How to Keep Fidgets from Overtaking Your Classroom

First, I need to make one thing clear before the hate mail starts. I am not anti-fidget (noun) or anti-fidget (verb).  As a matter of fact, most people who meet me recognize pretty quickly that I fidget with pens or something in my hands a lot.  I however, rarely recognize that I'm doing it.  Why, because I'm focused on the conversation or task, rather than the item I'm fidgeting.  

Secondly, fidgets have been around in various forms for a long time. Students with sensory processing issues have long used swings, bouncy seats, weighted vest, and the like to help curb "stimming." 

  • The term "stimming" is short for self-stimulatory behavior and is sometimes also called "stereotypic" behavior. In a person with autism, stimming usually refers to specific behaviors that include hand- flapping, rocking, spinning, or repetition of words and phrases., May 14, 2017

Fidgets are used to provide an alternative to dangerous, self-harmful, or disruptive stimming in students with various disabilities including Autism Spectrum Disorders, Attention Deficit Disorders and others.

Third, treatment guidelines for many disorders include the following recommendations.

  • Remove nuisance items. Teachers often find that certain objects (such as rubber bands and toys) distract the attention of students with ADHD in the classroom. The removal of nuisance items is generally most effective after the student has been given the choice of putting it away immediately and then fails to do so. 
  • Provide calming manipulatives. While some toys and other objects can be distracting for both the students with ADHD and peers in the classroom, some children with ADHD can benefit from having access to objects that can be manipulated quietly. Manipulatives may help children gain some needed sensory input while still attending to the lesson, May 14th, 2017

The difference between "nuisance items" and "calming manipulatives" above really comes down to how the items are used.

Noisy-if poor quality
often takes 2-hands
has a tendency to fly on its own
As I mentioned above, I often use calming manipulatives, "fidgets," myself.  Thus, I allow fidgets that meet the following criteria in my 6th grade elementary classroom.

Fidgets in my classroom need to be:

  1. Personal-They are not for showing off to others. Students are not to be getting others attention to show them their latest fidget trick.
  2. Quiet-Noisy fidgets can be distracting to others. If another student is annoyed by the sound a fidget makes, the student needs to switch to a less noisy fidget.
  3. One-handed-Students need to be able to operate their fidget with one hand. It is impossible for students to attend to most educational task without using their hands.  Students need to have one hand available for participating in discussions, taking notes, using their mobile device, etc.
  4. An Improvement to Their Focus-With the intent of the fidget being to improve students attention, it should do just that. It should improve a students ability to focus on the discussion, lesson, activity, and assignment that is taking place in the classroom at that moment. It should at least reduce a students need for stimming and allow students to be full participants in their classroom environment.
So, when is it time to outlaw a fidget?
  • When the student is using the fidget to distract others. "Hey, check this out!" 
  • When the student's attention and focus is on the fidget more than on the classroom learning. Or, when the student's attention and focus to the lesson decreases with the fidget in use. I had a student last week that sat staring at his fidget for several minutes without completing (even looking at) any questions. 
  • When fidgets fly. Yep, I said it. I've had fidget spinners go spinning right out of students hands and several feet across the room. That is a sure sign that it needs to be put away.
  • Please don't react by banning all fidgets when something happens. Banning all fidgets punishes all students. Though I know it is much more difficult, teachers need to deal with fidgets on a case by case basis. Having a clear set of expectations, and a clear, communicated policy concerning fidgets uses and misuse, will allow students that need and can use them effectively to do so.
Fidget devices have been around for a long time and thousands of adults and students use some type of fidget every day without even being aware of it.  When fidgets are used appropriately, by the right population, they can be a meaningful tool for learning.

About the Author
Allen Hancock is a sixth-grade teacher at Centennial Elementary School in Lewiston, Idaho.  Allen has degrees in Elementary Education and Psychology.  With over 22 years of teaching experience including 3rd, 5th, and 6th grades, as well as, previous experience as a behavior intervention specialist, he writes various blog post for and presents at local, state, and national conferences. Find out more about Allen at

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