What the Fidget is going on? Tales from a Traveling Substitute Teacher
Written by Kim Tinari-Shore, M.Ed.
What’s all the hype nowadays in elementary and secondary school classrooms? There’s certainly more movement during learning. Action-based learning is a brain-based learning theory, which focuses on the structure and workings of the brain in regards to learning. Therefore, physical activity combined with learning concepts are combined and shown to increase learning. Various types of seating and accommodations are now used frequently in classrooms to help children who may require more movement than others and who have ADD/ADHD.
So, what is actually different now than 20-30 years ago? Having taught 17+ years as an elementary school teacher, my perspective regarding the use/overuse of accommodations shifts back and forth. Clearly, differentiation in the classroom is of utmost value and what makes learning possible for all students. However, I have become overwhelmed with the increase in children either labeled with the ADD/ADHD diagnosis or whom present with such symptoms like hyperactivity, lack of impulse control, the need for frequent brain breaks, and who simply cannot attend for periods longer than 5 minutes at a time. Well, these overactive, inactive, unregulated thought producers, lack of steady thinking thinkers are now subscribing to fad-like measures to alleviate their symptoms. Many of who have no diagnosis or medical need for a FIDGET TOY!!!!
Fidget toys, spinners, fidget cubes, tangles are some of the newest accommodation, which for those who receive this and use it as a modification as per their therapist or doctor, these appear to benefit children dramatically. As defined in 2011, Fidget Toys are self-regulation tools to help with focus, attention, calming & active listening. Stress balls, tangles, and squigglets can be used as fidget toys to promote movement and tactile input that is critical for some student’s learning. would expect to receive beneficial gains from the use of the so-called toys.
With the rise of the newly found devices that various children now have, there’s been a direct impact on kids of all ages in various settings including home, school, sporting events, and recess yards. As a substitute teacher who also has two young children of my own, I am a more observant spectator when children are in the equation. For instance, over the weekend I attended a two-day basketball tournament for my 11-year-old daughter. As I sat on the sidelines of the court cheering on my daughter and her team, my younger 8 year old daughter tapped me forcefully and directed me to look at a group of players from another team and several of their siblings sitting in seats near us. She nearly shouted, “Mom, look!!! They all have fidget toys. Some even have more than one!” In their arsenal were fidget cubes, spinners, stress balls, bouncy balls, and Rubik’s cubes. Oh, and on top of all of that they were chewing gum! What is this intense “need” to be stimulated at all times in every orifice of one’s body? Is it a “need” or an “obsession”? Or are these gadgets just fun?
The other thing that boggles my mind is not the “need” to fidget, snap, push, spin, squeeze, but the fact that these motions are not enough. Many children were demonstrating circus-like behaviors in which they had the spinners on their nose and head and were popping chewing gum bubbles on another with the use of the spinner. This is in the middle of a basketball game! This team should be watching the game, not teaching their 2-year-old sibling to throw a spinner on the court during a foul shot. Needless to say, no parent came to redirect the child or apologize that the referee had to stop the game to retrieve it and return it. Instead of socializing with one another, it was more like who could outdo each other in a contest and show each other up. After the interruption of the game, I realized that these objects also have the capacity to be taken apart. So, the pieces that fell to the floor were quickly retrieved and everyone rapidly scrambled to get their belongings to report to the court assignment for their upcoming game. At that point my mind went into overdrive and I became dizzy with thoughts. Personally, I feel as though the fidgets shouldn’t have been brought to the game or sidelines. Understandably, some children were at the tournament for hours and bringing such items is acceptable if they are being used outside of the playing areas. But, as an observant traveller, I notice mobile phones and these fad-like toys to be an obsessive distraction to children who could be socializing and using their own brains to orchestrate creativity. Or is that the point? Why think if you don’t have to?
Recently my travels brought me to a middle school where I was a substitute teacher for two weeks. My position as a Reading Specialist was to work with the 7th & 8th grades, deliver small group instruction as well as have the students in the alternate group, work on the Read 180 computer program. Middle school aged children are motivated in a different way than elementary aged students. That was clear! Inspiring children to extend their effort, work smart, and enjoy themselves while doing so, always was my superpower! Needless to say, my ego took a beating and I found myself battling daily for commonplace things like, “Good morning, Mrs. Shore” or “Ok, I’ll get started right away.” Instead, one of my objectives each day was to ensure that “toys” were taken and held for the period. I’ve confiscated “toys” many times from the younger students. But, surprisingly, I found myself doing the same with these children. Working with a group of struggling readers, my observations included the highest level of distracted behaviors. Ironically, many of the children had the fidget toys and apparently, they weren’t operating like they should be if they are used for children with ADHD or stress. Of course, only a handful out of 30 students, were even given that diagnosis. However, many behaviors observed could have dictated otherwise.
Sadly, three-quarters of these groups were seemingly, distracted in ways I had never seen. Many had potential and were approachable when spoken to on a one-to-one basis, and were quite likeable! My discouragement grew each day, however, I shared my frustrations only when necessary, but continued to deliver instruction and push the students to take ownership of some part of the class, even if for a 5-10 minute increment. What I learned from this assignment was that the children who showed disrespect, disregard, inability to sit still or self-soothe with these fidget fads, is that these behaviors couldn’t possibly be primarily inherent.
They had to be learned and reinforced. Clearly, it wasn’t the teachers or the administration modeling the behaviors. Maybe the companies have marketed them irresponsibly? Maybe parents should be more aware of these new objects that are at times inducing a trance-like state or increased movement since using them, and perhaps that they may be a distraction, overall. This conversation may not even equate to much, or may not seem something to place on your radar. However, when I hear several children say, “Oh, I have ADHD and I can have this spinner!” at numerous times, with a lackadaisical attitude and a public announcement of a diagnosis or feigning to actually have one, I can’t help but wonder why and how they feel this comfortable saying such things out loud! Again, my thoughts wander back to the practically obvious assumption that this forward, nonchalant announcement and excuse to get what the child wants is beyond a learning struggle, challenge, diagnosis, or deficit. It’s more of a lack of social cues, skills, regard for one’s own self that seems to scream the need for attention, rather than the need to be defiant or insult.
As stated before when a topic or idea is the object of one’s thoughts, it seems to be that the eyes are keener and more attentive. Spinners, fidgets, and distractions are on my radar. As I was checking my Facebook account one evening I noticed a friend of mine posted that while he was on vacation in North Carolina, he found a spinner in the airport and remarked that he would be the “best dad ever” when he brought it home to his son. I chuckled and commented that I was glad that he felt powerful and regarded as the King of Dads. Meanwhile, I was confiscating them daily from my students. Other comments were from friends begging him to pick up more for them and questioning where to find them. To my pleasant surprise was a comment from a special education teacher who offered her displeasure with how loosely they’ve been bought and used. She mentioned that the spinner “has now become a toy and not the tool for ADHD, which they were made for. Now it’s ruined for those kids that could really use them appropriately!” Honestly, a lesson on how to use them and where to use them prior to being packed along in the backpack might just make a bit of difference.
Again, another Facebook post a friend of mine made depicted her middle school and elementary aged sons and friends, sitting in the house spinning spinners, while it was a beautiful day outside. I don’t know why this jovial, harmless post seemed to incense me. Maybe I’m overboard with this fidget issue. Maybe I’m the one who is obsessed. I concluded that my intensity about teaching, educating all children, breaking through barriers, pushing for stronger thinking and students’ self-concepts are what drive me. It’s knowing what “was” and what “is” and feeling like what I find to be obvious isn’t for everyone else. My impact as an educator can only go so far. If my ideas, values, academic goals, etc. aren’t valued the same in the children’s’ homes, I begin working harder to prove and validate what I know as a professional and what I have learned along the way. On the surface this fad may appear as nothing to some. But, first hand experience with the fidgets at school and simple observations leave me concerned for children in this era. The overwhelming presence of inattention when teachers teach is reflective of technology on children. As teachers, the window for making a difference is a bit smaller than it used to be.
Years ago what the teacher said was golden and never to be challenged, questioned, or overruled by the child or parent. Often times the fads like Pokémon cards, Shopkins, Minecraft, and Fidgets are developed and once on the market, they become the biggest obsession. If the obsession doesn’t become a problem in the schools, no harm is done. However, when these objects are brought to school, get lost, get taken, or are used when they are not allowed, schools are forced to lay down the law and ban them. Then the perception of the administrators and educators is one of a “fun hater” and this misconception is truly not accurate.
Ultimately, learning is the goal at school and toys shouldn’t be allowed.
Lastly, I asked my eight-year-old daughter if she would partake in some “testing” of the fidgets that I purchased and answer a few questions afterwards. She was of course, more than happy to be involved and play with the toys. My questions related to how it felt to fidget with the spinner and if it would be relaxing to do during a reading activity. The other questions focused on an objective opinion on whether it could be distracting in class and her overall opinion on the use of them. I took her written responses and used exactly what she wrote, done completely independently.
“Surprisingly, using spinners makes me feel overwhelmed because you need to make it spin faster, faster, faster until it’s nothing but a blur. Also, with a spinner you need to balance it while working in class. But, I think the cubes are more relaxing. I think it would make me very distracted during an activity because I would be focused on the toy more than my work. The fidget toys could be distracting in class because if I was the only one using a toy then everybody would stop working and the whole class would be inattentive. My overall opinion about fidget toys is too many people are using them for fun and not for their real use when they are at school.”
Well, I couldn’t agree anymore with her! However, the travels I continue to take may present more on this topic. But for now, I want to reiterate what the intent of the article was and what to do with this information. Fidget spinners are a wonderful invention for the use of calming the mind and aiding in the focus of students with ADHD diagnoses. It is without saying that they are addicting, fun to play with, and becoming an issue in schools. Be more mindful of what fads are holding the attention of these children. How necessary is it to be preoccupied with a gadget, be it a phone, the latest app or social media fix, or a simple fidget toy? A resolved effort should be put into all the purchases we make for our children and what happens after the purchase. Cell phones were the first indication of what effects technology continues to have on our youth and research studies show how harmful they have become in the hands of children who have no idea or experience self-regulating or moderately using them for what they are; phones. I know as a collective, we as parents want nothing other than to make our children happy and do right by them. In the future, we should all practice mindfulness, pause and take a second to evaluate what is going on around us and if it all is benefiting us as parents,teachers, and students, and if we aren’t content with what we see, then we need to make a concerted effort to initiate a change in what we are doing.
About Kim Tinari-Shore
A state certified instructor with an advanced degree and specialized training, at an early age Kimberly knew she wanted to help others. What she did not know was how her role would playout professionally. Kimberly attended Rider University where she earned her BA in Psychology. Upon graduation, she began working for a preschool in Buckingham, PA. It was this first learning experience as a teacher that would ignite her desire and drive to become a career educator. After receiving her M.Ed. from Holy Family University and her Certification in Elementary Education in the state of PA, Kimberly pursued her love for teaching. For two consecutive years she taught fourth grade for a Catholic school in Doylestown.Later, she went on to teach second and third grades in a public school in the Overbrook section of Philadelphia. Most recently, Kimberly invested 11 years of teaching second and fourth grades in the suburbs in Montgomery County, PA. Read more here.