Fidgets: Focus, Fun, and Function

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.

Figuring out how we do our best work is important for being able to do our best work.

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!

These are based on years of experience working with learners. Some come and go, but many spiral back – like a good fidget spinner.

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.

List of Categories:

Natural Stones

The Pop it Family

Pop Tubes

The Putties

Visual Puzzle

Magnetic Fidgets

The Squishy Stuff

The Spinners

Tried & True

Simple Stuff

Pencil Toppers

Sampler Bundle

Gum

Natural Stones

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.

River Rocks

Stone Bracelets – a personal go to and a pleasant wear-able fidget.

 

The Pop it Family

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.

Pop it Backpack Hanger

Pop-it Bracelet

Pop-it Spinner

Rainbow Pop It

Pop Tubes

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.

Set of pop tubes

Pop Tubes

The Putties

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.

Uncle Aaron’s

 

Uncle Aaron’s Mini Tins

 

Therapeutic – Exercise Putty with different strengths

Visual Puzzle

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.

Shashibo Original

Beautiful Themed Bundle

Puzzle Ball

 

Magnetic Fidgets

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.

Magnetic Finger Rings

Sleek Magnet Tower

The Squishy Stuff

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.

 

The Spinners

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.

Spinner

Transformable Robot Spinner 

 

Tried & True

These are a few I have had for a while, and re-buy and pass on to students.

The Tangle

Jeliku 

I did not know what this was called – just have enjoyed it with my kids and students for years. It is lightweight and our imaginative kiddos seems to have a million ideas for how to enjoy it.

Fidget Cube

Been around – but my students still are curious about it.

 

Fun for a Ball Toss – Flip Colors

 

Novel Expansion Ball – Great for Yoga Breathing – a nice breath break

 

 

Simple Stuff

These items have tactile effects and bonus – they are affordable, and also nice craft supplies.

Pipe cleaners

Puffballs

Pencil Toppers

Having some fidgets connected to their tools can be fun.

Fidget Pencil

Sampler Bundle

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.

Gum

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.

Trident Bubble Gum

Trident Layers

Pur Aspartame-Free 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!

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OT Resources

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.

The Therapy Shoppe

The OT Toolbox

Growing Hands on Kids

 

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!