Do fidget toys help or hinder concentration?

Whee!

Fidget toys have caught on over the past year in a big way.  Following a really successful Kickstarter campaign for the fidget cube (which is amazing!), widgets for kids to fidget with have blasted into the public consciousness.  There are schools banning them and there are organisations advocating for their use.  What are the arguments and who is right?

The case for fidget toys: They help with concentration

Most of us mindlessly fidget with something while we ponder a project, listen to a lecture, or work through a problem and some researchers have begun to question whether fidgeting might actually be a part of work.  Is fidgeting part of how we think and process?

We know that fidgeting is a coping mechanism for those of us who struggle with ADD and ADHD.  The fidgeting process outwits the boredom and distraction that these conditions bring on and allow the fidgeter to focus on what is going on.  The stimulus from the fidgeting is stimulating and interesting enough to allow the brain to attend to the primary focus.  Is it possible that focusing on one thing isn’t how we are wired? (see more science detail here)

Research is correlating working with our hands with increased creativity – some studies showing that mindless doodling can boost memory and attention span.  There is even a 2005 study that concluded kids allowed to fidget during class learn more quickly than those who are not.

The case against fidget toys: They hinder concentration

There are schools across the globe that are banning fidget toys.  Given all that was said above, I want to know why.  Is it just because they haven’t read the research?

One argument is that fidget toys are a bit too much fun.  It is one thing to squeeze some blu-tac (other brands available) or a paperclip, but a spinner is quite interesting and can become the primary focus rather than the desired secondary one.  If I struggle with writing, I might prefer to spin my spinner than try to finish a paragraph.

Another is around theft.  Some of the toys are a couple of quid but there are others which are £20 or £30.  There was an uptick in these being stolen and a ban could be one way to help with this.

Fidget toys can distract other students in a classroom environment.  Others’ eyes are drawn, they are not listening to what is going on in the classroom, they are trading and comparing their model with the one their classmate has.

Conclusion:

In a typical school environment, there is a lot of sitting, listening and writing.  I think that fidget toys can help with the focus of students if there were some simple guidelines agreed together to have them usefully in classrooms.  Discussions about why we might need them and what might be sensible in their use would be a good way forward.  Home and school agreeing on this and working from the idea that fidget tools are not toys but aids to learning.

 

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