What exactly is constructive fidgeting?

by Virginia Spielmann

If you live in Hong Kong and go anywhere near children you have probably noticed that we have been swamped by kickstarter-style fidgets. There are Sham Shui Po 'special' versions of Fidget Cubes and Fidget Spinners all over the place. 

SPIN SPIN SPINWe dare you to tell us that the fidget spinner is not incredibly fascinating to watch - mesmerizing even. Not only that, but different spinners spin, well, differently. These toys are so visually captivating that suddenly it is socially acceptable for our students to 'stim'; it has even become a social event. 

[At SPOT we are not anti-stimming by the way, but we will save that for another blog post. This post is about 'constructive fidgeting', the benefits of allowing fidgeting, and how to help your students choose the best fidgets.] 

What is the purpose of allowing fidgets in the classroom? 

Human beings are designed to move, and it requires a lot of brain power to stay totally still. Sixth formers, university students and other adult learners are often seen moving, sometimes standing at the back, taking 'body-breaks' and so on. Colleagues in staff meetings tap their feet, rock on their chairs, chew gum, click their pens, or doodle on note pads. Generally, we don't mind, we know that our adult peers do these things so that they can stay focused on the current task. However our children, who need to move more, are asked to 'sit still and pay attention'. 

Asking our children to hold their bodies still is actually a game, called musical statues, we play it because it's hilariously hard, even for 10 and 11 year olds, to keep children still and ask them to keep their hands to themselves. 

When we allow our children to keep their minds alert, by keeping their bodies active, we are enabling our children to regulate themselves. To stay alert enough for the task at hand. To cultivate attention and focus. This is the definition of 'constructive fidgeting'. 


Great ways to fidget and stay focused include: standing desks, stress balls, theraband on chair legs, or furniture that has built in movement, chewing gum, camelbak water bottles, toilet breaks, running errands, kneeling desks, chewable jewelry, chewable pencil toppers, textured chewable rulers, doodling; even moving while learning. However it varies from person to person and adults do need to help children figure this out. At SPOT we think fidget cubes are great tools for constructive fidgeting, but not for everybody. We haven't met a child yet who is able to focus while they are playing with a fidget spinner. 

Fidget spinners are great for calming and soothing, they are absorbing and mesmerising, but this is not helpful for attention and focus and tends to be a distraction. They remind us of glitter time out timers and reversable sequin fabric - almost hypnotic. So we generally think these are best kept away from the activities that require attention, perhaps away from the classroom altogether?

Did we mention that the fidget cube is pretty great? That we encourage 'constructive fidgeting'? Just please don't be put off by all these spinners all over the place.

How to use fidgets well.

Generally you do need to give new fidgets a good 3 week trial in the classroom to help children get over the novelty factor and see if they are going to support focus and attention in the long run. We also suggest allowing every child in a classroom to access fidgets, not just those with IEPs or identified needs, this helps to normalize the conversation. 

Your children will also need to move less during class if they move lots during recess and lunch; so avoid removing these breaks as punishment (that tends to be a downwards spiral) and encourage monkey bars, running, aerobic exercise and rythmic activities throughout the day. 

Finally for the purposes of 'constructive fidgeting' avoid toys and items that make too much noise and are visually engaging, as these detract attention away from the task at hand. 

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