My desk both at work and at home is covered in toys. Miniature Slinky toys, bouncy balls, Play-doh, Koosh toys; the list goes on. When I cannot bring myself to focus having something to fiddle with always works to redirect my thoughts to the target problem and keep my idle hands occupied. This is the same reason I stray away from pens that click. I cannot seem to help but indulge myself in mindlessly clicking the pen, annoying everyone around me. It helps me focus, but everyone else suffers.
Staying focused is essential in a classroom. Students are often given limited time to understand a concept before they are tested and move on to something new. To ensure that everyone is getting the best education it is important that focus is directed towards what is being learned and not something trivial. Redirecting focus in the classroom can be challenging, but there are a few tricks educators have in their arsenal. Ambrose Panico has some great strategies for managing a classroom, but for today we’re just focused on fidget toys.
The use of fidget toys may be advantageous in classrooms when it is necessary to keep a student’s hands occupied with a mindless task. Mindlessness is important for this strategy – the idea is to occupy the hands, not the brain.
Who benefits from fidget toys in the classroom?
For students who begin touching other students, tapping their fingers on their desk, or needlessly organizing their papers, a fidget toy may be useful. Although this is not always the case, students diagnosed with attention deficit disorder (ADD), autism spectrum disorder, or sensory integration disorder may find the greatest benefit from integrating fidget toys into the lesson. Determining how to best battle your fidgeting can be difficult, but the Internet has many communities and websites established around this topic that could be of help.
Educators also benefit from the use of fidget toys. Having a room full of students who are having their individual needs met fosters a more manageable environment for everyone. Creating a more manageable atmosphere allows more focus to be allocated to delivering the lesson plan, which is exactly what we are aiming for.
Integrating fidget toys into your lesson
Pulling out a bin of colorful, plush toys in a classroom with little to no explanation may be effective for some educators, but setting ground rules will help to redirect focus to classwork in a more productive manner. Let students know that the fidget toys are there to occupy their hands if they desire, but they are not to be used as weapons or to distract their peers. Slinky toys tangled in long locks of hair and Koosh balls whizzing through the air at top speed is not the aim here. A room full of productive students who are happily learning is more what we’re looking for. Setting these ground rules is necessary regardless of the population you’re working with, even adults can get carried away with toys.
Desensitization to fidget toys can occur. Using these tools sparingly will increase their benefit in the classroom. Not all lessons will allow for the use of fidget toys, as realistically students may need their hands for writing, typing, or turning pages. When the fidget toys are no longer serving their purpose, remove them.
For myself, I find toys to be the most useful during classroom discussions or movies. Any time I speak in front of people and find myself becoming anxious I tend to fiddle with my hands. This movement often distracts myself and others from what I’m saying. When I have an object to hold I stop fiddling and can focus on articulating my thoughts. During lectures where I will be taking notes or typing, fidget toys are often pushed to the side and no longer of any value.
When using fidget toys keep in mind that students have individual needs and varied personalities. Some students are more apt to throw things, or put objects in their mouth, and these factors need to be kept in mind when supplying tools such as fidget toys.
Fidget toys in sexuality education
Sex is a natural part of life; however that does not absolve it of causing anxiety among many people. When teaching about sex you are undoubtedly going to come across people who fall all over the spectrum of comfort in discussing sex and sexuality. The middle portion of this spectrum, those who are not wholeheartedly aligned to either extreme, will be swayed towards comfort or discomfort. The behaviors and body language of everyone making up the room, educator included, will help these individuals comprising the middle of the spectrum to determine where they lie. If the room is full of people who are uncomfortably fidgeting it could cause the atmosphere to take a nosedive toward unease and withdrawal.
Supplying fidget toys in sexuality education can alter the entire atmosphere of the classroom. Fidget toys can cultivate a more manageable anxiety level when difficult topics are being covered. Much of sexuality education is discussion, making it an ideal environment for the use of fidget toys as the hands are not otherwise occupied writing or typing. Be sure to take notice if people are occupying themselves more with their fidget toy than the conversation. In some cases fidget toys can be used as a distraction from what may be uncomfortable thoughts or feelings.
What fidget toys work best
The realm of fidget toys is vast, bleeding into both the classroom and office worlds. Any small toy that provides little added distraction should work well. Keep in mind that students have a myriad of needs and not one type of toy will likely appeal to everyone. Variety in your selection of fidget toys and a large enough quantity that students are not quarreling over getting one are ideal. Bec Oakley, of snagglebox.com, has created a great guide for classroom friendly fidget toys.
Things to avoid include:
- Toys that create noise.
- Strong odors.
- Materials students may be allergic to, such as latex.
- Choking hazards.
- Expensive toys.
- Large, bulky toys.
- Toys that could be easily lost. Think of the marble that rolls underneath the refrigerator never to be heard from again.
- Toys that may be difficult to clean. The cleanliness of your fidget toys is important. Illness travels quickly, so take every precaution by keeping your stock of toys clean.
Several companies work in the fidget toy industry, creating toys that are perfect for the office and classroom. General toy stores are also likely to have something that appeals to you and your students. I would recommend checking out the product in person so you can ensure the toy conforms to your specifications. An added bonus, you can play with some toys in the name of education.
Whether you need a fidget toy to keep idle hands occupied, or you just really enjoy having a reminder of childhood lying around, toys can have merit in the classroom. What toys would you recommend as fidget toys?