Wondering how to help a wiggly or inattentive kiddo manage the struggle of hanging in there during learning?
Fidgets to the Rescue!
What? Thinking those just provide further distraction? Or some toy – when serious work needs be done here?!?
Understandable question…and maybe. It just depends.
A key is to cue the learner to notice what helps and what hinders their learning success. In fact, this is an essential part of learning.
Fidgets may help move through a task or transition, and they also may help learners develop meaningful self-awareness or meta-cognition.
Many of my students work better with a fidget. Many ask for them as soon as a task starts to demand their cognitive energy and focus. Or to transition into a session. This tells me that they are looking for some help to move into learning. Further, making work more fun and less serious is good for all of us.
So – then it’s on to figuring out the right one and the right setup.
As a start – when introducing a fidget, allow time to explore and play, as it’s novel. Then, move into discussing its use.
For finding the right one – list of link categories below!
For the right setup – “Under what circumstances” is a central question for every learning strategy. “Under what circumstances does this strategy help? And when is it not working?” Something that works one day, may not work the next. That just means we have to spiral the strategies to keep them fresh and find its just-right moment.
Feeling like, “Ok Cindy – but show me the science!” I speak from experience, but I also like some science – so here is a link to an article with good resources if you want to find out more first.
Below are some the go-tos that are in my literal fidget toolbox at this time (and I will try to update this as new gizmos show up on the scene!). Click the headings to go to each category.
Natural and with a cool, smooth texture, these offer a good weighted and grounding object to hold. I often use them with mindfulness, but they are available functionally as paperweights, decorations, as well as a fidget object for those who might opt for their calming reassurance.
Stone Bracelets – a personal go to and a pleasant wear-able fidget.
Maybe inspired by bubble wrap…these seemed to come out of nowhere and are now everywhere. I use the regular-sized ones to teach sounds and syllables in literacy. However, for students, they might enjoy some of these variations to have them as a handy fidget for some satisfying popping moments.
Warning – these make some noise. So might be more of a toy for a break than a task-related tool. However, my students seem to LOVE them and the zing of joy makes the dose of learning go down much easier. Small investment for a nice return.
Uncle Aaron does a nice job with his products. There is a kaleidoscopic array of colors and themes, as well as scents and textures – fun for the putty-lovers! Different strengths of therapeutic putty have been around a while, and it might be interesting for students who enjoy benefits to sample different types.
This one I have to tuck to the side, and I bring it out deliberately – many of my students are fascinated and absorbed by it, so it works more as a mind break between tasks. The one that I have is the Shashibo. Good for adults too! Also the Puzzle Ball can be fun and satisfying to try.
My students love magnets, and I have found them also functional in instruction, particularly working outdoors so that things don’t blow away! I also use it to highlight where we are in a task, so it makes a fun visual way to move through an activity that engages the learner.
Many of my kiddos like the squishy sensory experience – the challenge is finding ones that aren’t irresistible to rip apart too quickly or ones that aren’t too sticky. The foam ones seem to be susceptible to being ripped, Often, the impulse is too much and I believe students do it without thinking or meaning to – but I like having them as an option regardless.
Stress Balls are an essential offering in the fidget tool kit
Mochi Squishies – so cute! hopefully not too sticky…may get dusty.
Monkey Noodles – These are simple and stretchy. They are also a great tool to have a visual for stretching the sounds of words for spelling.
Ubiquitous a few years back, and now taking a backseat to the pop-its… for my students, the endure. We use them for games, breaks, activities, or just a satisfying spin. I have ones with glitter, different colors, and shapes.
These are a few I have had for a while, and re-buy and pass on to students.
Novel Expansion Ball – Great for Yoga Breathing – a nice breath break
These items have tactile effects and bonus – they are affordable, and also nice craft supplies.
Having some fidgets connected to their tools can be fun.
If you want to just jump into an array, try a mixed kit. You can search by age which can help.
Bundle in a Bucket – Nice when things come with a container.
Finally – there is always just GUM! All my students want gum – during sessions and to go. Not exactly a fidget, but same effect. It is proven to help, by engaging the jaw and its connections to the nervous and regulatory systems. Plus, my kids’ pediatric dentist recommends chewing gum for dental health. So win-win there! The challenge is teaching them proper gum disposal. I don’t prevent this from using this simple, effective tool which is a great way to help inattentive learners. Here are some choices that are sugar-free and oft-chosen by my students. I keep an array of choices available, which they really enjoy. I have become a connoisseur of gum, even though I don’t chew gum.
Mentos Xylitol Gum – Gum that checks all the boxes: mint is proven improve learning, Xylitol for cavity prevention, and cool container for fun appeal.
Ice Breakers Ice Cubes – Also can come with Xylitol and tasty flavors!
Fidgets and the like are the expertise of “OT” or Occupational Therapy specialists. Here are some occupational therapy sites, that offer other great tools and information in the fidget and tactile arena.
Caveat & Support Wrap Up
I want to acknowledge a few things here that I grapple with regarding fidgets and about this post:
- Low-cost toys and the environmental effect – I know. It’s hard. If we can find natural, recyclable, or low-impact products, it’s great. I am aware. The river stones check those boxes.
- Make Your Own: Yes, and I have, and go for it. The OT sites above have some ideas, or you can search for more at Pinterest. My handmade ones have fallen apart – so it was fun, but I haven’t repeated it.
- These links are affiliate links that help me justify the time I spend writing these blog posts, which I hope provide someone some use. They don’t pay for the hours – it’s still a service of my business – just helps a bit. Please consider clicking the links, even to buy something else at the site, because it still helps me out by reinforcing some value in the post. So thank you.
- Finally – you can directly support the work of Learning Frameworks and Cee MK via Patreon.
Happy fidgeting – may you find fun and focus!