Should Your Child Take The New Fidget Toy Out For A Spin?

Fidget toys called Spinners have become a huge fad for kids. They all seem to love them. Meanwhile, most teachers and parents seem to hate them. In fact, Spinners are being banned in many schools. Some kids are crushed and some parents are furious. Where do you stand? Let’s take a look at Spinners and fidget toys in general and see if we can figure out this issue.

Old school types usually say, “Why are kids being allowed to bring toys to school these days? Why can’t they just sit still?” Here’s the thing – kids have always needed to fidget. They have been tapping pencils, wiggling their feet, chewing their nails, drawing on notebooks and countless other things since formal schooling began. Some of this behavior is expected by teachers, and they know how to manage it in their classrooms. But for some kids, movement is imperative.

Kids who have learning disabilities, or are on the autism spectrum, or have other challenges really DO need to move. It’s not that they are being disruptive, it’s just the way they are wired. Some schools today are getting rid of recess and PE, leaving these kids even less opportunity to be physically active during their day. This leaves kids with even more need to fidget.

Enter the fidget toy. A true fidget is not really a toy but more of a therapeutic tool. The first one I ever saw was an elastic band that was tied across the legs of a desk or a chair and the student could bounce their legs on the band. Some fidgets are much less physically active – putty has been gaining ground in classrooms lately. Rubik’s Cube is a classic example of a fidget for the hands, but it can be loud and distracting to the other students. Fidgets don’t all have to have a solution or an endpoint. Putty can be sculpted into something, but it can also be simply manipulated for the sensory input. In a classroom with an inclusive population, where some kids have special needs and some are “typical” as the term goes, can you allow some students to have these items and say no to the others? This creates even more issues in a classroom.

Enter the Spinner. They come in many colors and materials, and some even light up. They are very well named – they spin. That’s all they do. Some have one circle, others have three, and you can move the spinning bearing to change the motion and the sensation.

All people are drawn to spinning items, this is why there is a now a job called sign spinner, why children have played with spinning tops all throughout history and why pinwheels and whirligigs have been popular since they were invented in China in 400 BC (yes, I did my research). People on the autism spectrum are especially drawn to spinning items, so I could see Spinners calming a tantrum (I work with special needs kids and know first hand that tantrums don’t only happen to toddlers). But in reality they are just being used to show off the latest color or model and taunt the kids who don’t have them. They are also being used as weapons, to poke or spin on someone else’s skin. Eventually they will end up being thrown at someone. They do sort of look like Ninja stars, and many manufacturers have Ninja Star Spinners so clearly I am not the only one who made the connection – and some of those types look very sharp!

To see what all the hype is about I played with one. The key word is PLAYED – it is certainly a toy. If you change the heavy part to one of the outer rings it does have an interesting weighed effect, but I really only see the benefits for kids with special needs and/or sensory issues. I think Spinners would be useful for kids who stim, not necessarily for kids who fidget. You can find a good Spinner for that here.

Self-stimulatory behavior, also known as stimming and self-stimulation, is the repetition of physical movements, sounds, or repetitive movement of objects common in individuals with developmental disabilities, but most prevalent in people with autism spectrum disorders. It is considered a way in which autistic people calm and stimulate themselves. Another theory is that stimming is a way to relieve anxiety, and other emotions. Common stimming behaviors (sometimes called stims) include  repeating noises or words and spinning objects.  …Wikipedia

A compromise might be to establish rules for when, where and how Spinners may be used. Parents and/or teachers could brainstorm some rules as well as consequences. Maybe they can be used at recess but not in the classroom, or maybe if the class finishes the day’s lesson plan early they would be given some time at the end of class to bring out their Spinners, which might even encourage better classroom behavior. Perhaps they could be attached to the underside of desks so they can be spun out of sight.

While doing research I also found some Youtube videos that teach Spinner tricks which might get the kids up and active trying to balance, toss and catch the toy. There are also instructions for making your own Spinners, so break out the craft supplies and turn off the video games!

About the Author

Rosie Reeves is a writer and mother of three; including one with special needs. She works side-by-side with her daughter’s therapists, teachers and doctors. Rosie also serves as the Los Angeles Special Needs Kids Examiner and as a contributor on the Yahoo! Contributor Network. She can be reached at rosie327@aol.com. Rosie is a member of the PedSafe Expert team

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