They’re in your gas stations. They’ve been in your children’s schools. They’re probably in your homes.
Fidget spinners: the triangular device designed to freely rotate between your thumb and pointer finger aimed at helping fidgety kids focus. And even though they come in array of colors and sizes – some even bedazzled or featuring your favorite sports team — they’re marketed to combat anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and autism.
But when they have subsequently become more playful as kids find ways to balance them on their noses and perform other tricks, are they really providing value to students who have trouble concentrating?
Most schools say – at least for a majority of the time – no. And the tools have been banned from districts across the country similarly to the late-slap bracelets and Pokémon cards.
P.S. 101 in New York City put their decision to exile the “new fad toy spinner” like this:
“As many students have been seen using these toys and they have been interfering with student instruction or attention to direction, please be advised these toys will not be allowed at school,” Principal Gregg Korrol said in a letter on the district’s website. “Any fidget spinners found in school will be taken away by teachers.”
Because while they’ve been boasted as tools to help with attentiveness, the truth is there hasn’t been much scientific study on the subject, according to a group of scientists set out to do just that. In a review published in the journal “Current Opinion in Pediatrics,” scientists say they are running two studies at Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New York. They’re looking into the nature of fidgeting and whether spinners help or hinder concentration in both children with and without ADHD.
“Here at Cohens, we are also looking at the way that sound can help people focus,” said Dr. Ruth Milanaik, who specializes in specializes in neurodevelopmental disabilities and developmental-behavioral pediatrics at the center. She’s also one of the review’s authors.
“We are in the process of recruiting children for a study that focuses on the way that different frequencies of sounds can help or hinder attention to task,” she said.
Why do some kids need help focusing?
Dr. Milanaik said there are many reasons why a student may need help with attention.
- There are issues with students who become bored when the classwork is too easy or children who become confused when classwork is too difficult.
- Children with anxiety regarding schoolwork may distract themselves with worry.
- Issues like sleep, nutrition and other outside factors may contribute to inattention.
- There are disorders such as ADHD that may result in the inability to focus or complete tasks.
What can parents do?
While fidget spinners may provide a tactile way to keep your child’s brain on track, Dr. Milanaik said altering the environment they are working in can achieve the same goal.
“Parents can help their children by providing a clean, distraction-lessened environment in which to complete their homework,” she said.
“Organizational skills are very important for all children and helping them to develop these at a young age can help them become better students. Working with your child on time management and helping them are just some of the ways that you can help develop good study skills.’”
But what if they’re still fidgety?
“Regarding the concept of fidgeting, some children do better if they can use a ball point pen, therapy putty or small objects to manipulate as they work. Make sure these do not become more of a distraction themselves. Fidget spinners would appear to be more visual and therefore more of a toy than a real tool for decreasing distractions.”
She said that if parents or teachers have sincere concerns with distraction, “it is essential that a full educational evaluation be performed in order to rule out a learning issue that may complicate the learning process.”
Alternatives to fidget spinners
Victoria Nackley is an occupational therapy professor of graduate courses at Utica College. And she doesn’t think fidget spinners are completely useless.
In fact, she called them a “nice tool for regulating attention” – as long as there are rules and students are respectful and not distracting other students. That, she says, transcends all fidget toys.
Nackley said that while fidget spinners are popular now, there have long been less obtrusive ways to fidget.
- Kneed-able erasers: Also known as putty, these erasers can be shaped, pulled, rolled and squished. Craft stores typically sell them in the drawing section, and Wal-Mart sells them for less than $3.
- Therapy putty: A 2-ounce container of resistive, but moveable goop can be purchased online for about $4.
- Pencil tops: Amazon sells a set of six “nut and bolt style” fidgets that slide onto any pencil. A pack will cost about $13.
- Elastic around the feet of a chair: A simple large rubber band will do. Just stretch the band around the chair’s four legs and students can move their feet across it.
There are even some DIY fidget tools you can make at home with your children.
Nackley said parents of children who have problems staying focused should contact their school’s occupational therapist to determine which method is best for their child.
“The range of possibilities is endless, they just have to be tailored to the individual child,” Nackley said. “And the individual needs to be respectful so it doesn’t detract from other students’ attention.”
Alissa Scott is a public information specialist for the Capital Region BOCES Communications service in Albany, NY. She loves to go camping in the Adirondacks, DIY projects and her cat, Wednesday Addams.