The Benefits of Fidget Toys in the Classroom

In recent years, fidget toys like fidget spinners, bendy toys, and squishy stress balls have become increasingly popular among children and adults alike. While some view fidget toys as distractions, a growing body of research suggests they can have educational and therapeutic benefits when used appropriately in the classroom. Here are some of the main benefits of allowing fidget toys in schools:

Improved Focus and Concentration

Studies show that allowing tactile stimulation from fidget toys can help students, especially those with conditions like ADHD, autism, or anxiety, focus during lessons. The toys give their hands something automatic to do, freeing up mental resources to pay attention to the teacher. One study found that when middle school students were allowed to fidget with toys like silly putty or bendable figurines during a video lecture, they stayed more on-task and retained more information afterwards. The toys seemed to be providing an outlet for excess energy that could otherwise manifest as restlessness or acting out.

Reduced Fidgeting and Restlessness

When students have no outlet for nervous energy or the need to keep their hands busy, they may resort to tapping their feet, clicking pens, shaking knees, or finding other disruptive ways to fidget. Giving them approved fidget toys can provide that outlet to channel their urge to move, allowing them to stay seated and keep distractions to a minimum. Teachers report improved behavior and fewer distracted outbursts in classrooms that permit fidgets.

Calming Effects for Anxiety

For students who feel anxious presenting in front of the class, taking a high-stakes test, or facing bullying at school, fidget toys can have a self-soothing effect and reduce stress levels. Focusing on the sensory input from bending, twisting, or squeezing a toy can have therapeutic, calming effects similar to meditation. This allows students to approach stressful situations with more confidence and emotional resilience. Teachers can recommend fidgets for anxious children as an alternative to other coping mechanisms like escaping to the bathroom.

Improved Hand Strength and Dexterity

Many fidget toys like stress balls and hand exercisers require students to squeeze, bend, pinch, or twist them. Using the toys helps strengthen fine motor skills and can be especially beneficial for students with conditions like autism that affect dexterity. Occupational therapists sometimes recommend fidget toys to improve hand and finger mobility. And for all students, exercising their hands during classroom downtime makes better use of their time than more passive fidgeting.

While fidget toys hold promise for improving focus, behavior, and anxiety, experts warn they require rules so they don’t become too distracting or disruptive. Educators interested in incorporating fidgets should establish guidelines for appropriate types of toys and times to use them. With the right limits in place, fidget toys can be powerful tools for supporting students’ wellbeing and ability to learn.