Anyone paying even the slightest bit of attention has noticed the newest trend plaguing parents and teachers: fidget spinners. The three-pronged, whirring monstrosities seem to be everywhere—littering road-side stands and nestled among other junk in the checkout aisle. But they’ve also caught attention in the classroom.
Sellers claim the spinners will increase concentration and reduce anxiety, which supposedly makes them great classroom concentration aids. They’re typically marketed specifically toward those with ADD, ADHD, and on the autism spectrum.
While some teachers see the benefit the toys can have, most bemoan them as the devil’s spinning handiwork. The spinners tend to be noisy and visually stimulating, meaning they easily distract. Still, the fact they are popular in the first place is a symptom of a much deeper problem. The school system doesn’t really understand how children learn.
High school teacher Joshua Gibbs had this to say about the toy:
If a mind craves physical distraction in order to learn, such craving needs to be crushed, not coddled. If coddled, it will only expand. Deeply gratified appetites do not remain the same size, and creating toys merely for young men to fidget with (as though the bazillion other things they fidget with are not enough) sends a ridiculous message to them about indulgence and accommodation.
But studies have shown that children—especially the young men Gibbs mentions—learn best if they are active. This is even truer for students with attention disorders. With schools trapping students at desks for extended periods, herding kids into formal education at ever-younger ages, and cutting recess time, it’s no wonder that natural energy comes out as fidgeting.
While it’s true fidget spinners might not be the best choice for a classroom, fidgeting in general is important to learning. Employing quieter alternatives like The Fidget Cube wouldn’t be feeding a vice, like Gibbs claims, it would be encouraging education.
Some teachers have already embraced their students’ restlessness and have begun accommodating this “appetite” either by helping students channel their fidgeting into something less distracting or specifically setting aside more time for being active. Standing desks with “fidget bars,” ankle-level swinging bars kids can expend energy on while reading and writing, are sweeping classrooms also.
But the idea that teachers need to add movement back into the classroom only shows the original failure of the system in removing it in the first place. Fidget spinners might be the latest fad and a faulty solution to the problem, but they show what’s missing in the classrooms. This isn’t about self-discipline or “just concentrating.” It’s about schools not teaching students the way need to be taught—fidgeting included.