Fidget toys have become increasingly popular in recent years as a tool to help students focus and relieve stress in the classroom. However, with this rise in popularity has come controversy over which fidget toys should be allowed in school. Schools want to support students, but also need to maintain an orderly learning environment. So what fidget toys make the cut? Here is an overview of the types of fidgets commonly used by students and which ones teachers and administrators typically approve for the classroom.
The Rubber Band
One of the simplest fidget toys, and often the most acceptable, is the standard rubber band that can be wrapped around fingers, twisted, and pulled. Rubber bands are quiet, inexpensive, and easy to find. They give restless hands something to manipulate without being too distracting. An added benefit is that the rubber band can be kept discretely in a student’s pocket then slipped over the fingers when needed. For these reasons, basic rubber band fidgets are usually allowed in classrooms. However, some schools may still ban them if they become a distraction or get shot across the room.
Stress Balls and Other Squeeze Toys
Small palm-sized stress balls and other soft squeeze toys are also commonly permitted as classroom fidgets. The gentle repetitive motion of squeezing can help students focus their excess energy. Popular versions include squishy balls made of rubber, foam, or pliable plastic, as well as animal shapes with liquid or gel inside. These toys are designed specifically for fidgeting hands, so they are usually allowed unless they become a noisy disruption. However, some schools prohibit larger squeeze toys or soft stuffed animals to avoid distractions.
Fidget Spinners and Fidget Cubes
When fidget spinners exploded onto the scene in 2017, they were the hottest fidget toy – and also the most controversial. With their mesmerizing spinning motion, spinners became a huge distraction in many classrooms. Schools scrambled to ban them or limit when and how they could be used. The same went for fidget cubes with multiple buttons, dials, and surfaces to manipulate. While excellent fidget devices overall, both spinners and cubes can be too visually and audibly distracting for a quiet classroom unless strict rules are in place. Some schools still allow them with restrictions, but many have banned them entirely.
Putty, Clay, and Other Manipulatives
Fidget putty, Therapy Clay, Play-Doh, and other soft manipulatives allow students to squish, pull, bend, and fidget discreetly in their hands or lap underneath their desk. These toys can improve focus and reduce restlessness without disrupting others. The big downside is they can get messy and sticky when not contained. For these reasons, schools often allow manipulatives like putty or clay but with rules like keeping them in a container or plastic bag. Students may be prohibited from sharing them to avoid germ transfer as well.
Fidget Jewelry and Accessories
Some students prefer fidget toys disguised as jewelry or accessories, such as spinner rings, rubber bracelets, and special pens topped with fidget rollers. These allow students to fidget discreetly by channeling the urge into spinning, rubbing, or clicking accessories. Because they are worn on the body, these fidgets are less likely to get lost or become distractions. Teachers will often allow fidget jewelry and accessories as long as they are subtle and quiet. Large, noisy stim jewelry or toys worn openly may still get banned for being disruptive.
Classroom Fidget Tools
Many classrooms have supplies like tennis balls under chair legs, resistance bands around legs of desks, inflatable seat cushions, and other tools to allow for more subtle fidgeting. While not toys per se, these tools can give restless students an outlet for low-key, quiet movement without diverting focus from the class. Teachers are usually comfortable permitting these types of standard classroom tools to allow students to move discreetly. The key is making sure they don’t make noise or become distractions from learning.
When Are Fidget Toys Banned?
While most teachers want to allow objects that help students concentrate, certain fidget toys tend to get banned for being too distracting, disruptive, or unsafe. Typical banned fidgets include those that:
- Make noise (e.g. clickers, loud spinners)
- Have small pieces that can get lost (e.g. tangles, mini cube chains)
- Can easily break or damage property (e.g. slime, very hard fidgets)
- Are visually distracting (e.g. brightly colored spinners)
- Get played with openly for entertainment (e.g. handheld video games, toys)
- Can be used to distract or disrupt others (e.g. projectiles)
- Present safety issues like choking hazards or allergy risks (e.g. very small magnets or latex)
- Tend to spread germs or illness easily when shared (e.g. certain manipulatives)
To keep classrooms focused but inclusive, most schools aim to rule out toys prone to these issues while allowing those that give restless students an unobtrusive outlet.
Setting Classroom Fidget Rules
Rather than banning fidget toys altogether, many educators find success by setting expectations and guidelines for appropriate fidgeting during class. Here are some best practices:
- Allow toy types that are quiet, discreet, and don’t distract others from learning.
- Have students keep fidgets in pockets or under desks when not in use.
- Set times when fidget toys may be used, such as during independent work or reading.
- Allow fidget tools attached to desks, chairs and legs rather than handheld toys.
- Let students use handheld fidgets in class in subtle, private ways without disturbing others.
- Explain expectations and model appropriate fidgeting.
- Have students request permission to use certain fidgets.
- Ban specific toys if misused, but avoid punishing the whole class.
- Consider behavior plans allowing fidget toys as a reward for positive behavior.
With clear rules in place, many educators find that most students use fidget toys responsibly without interfering with learning. This allows classrooms to embrace tools helping students regulate focus and anxiety.
Providing Alternatives to Fidget Toys
While popular, fidget toys are just one option. Schools and teachers can also incorporate alternative ways to meet students’ sensory needs. Some examples include:
- Building in movement breaks during long classes.
- Allowing safe ways to chew gum or snacks.
- Providing alternate seating options such as stability balls or standing desks.
- Creating opportunities for exercise like light yoga or stretches.
- Allowing doodling or squeezing soft stress balls during lectures.
- Offering short sensory breaks for students to visit calming rooms with tools likeweighted blankets, swing chairs, or tactile walls.
- Teaching breathing techniques, mindfulness, and meditation.
A comprehensive approach can give students many options for regulating alertness besides fidget toys alone.
Fidget toys can be a useful tool when used appropriately in school settings. While certain toys get misused and banned, many simple fidgets allow students to manipulate objects discreetly to channel excess energy and sustain focus. With reasonable expectations set, most students will self-regulate and use fidgets responsibly. This allows classrooms to provide the benefits of these toys while maintaining an orderly learning environment for all.