Sensory Tools
for Middle School

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The latest from Dr. Eva, DPT and Dr. Yana, DDS, and Kristi, EDL.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are fidget toys?

Fidget toys are small, often handheld, objects designed to be twiddled with to help alleviate stress, manage anxiety, and improve focus. They come in various shapes, sizes, and textures and are specifically crafted to engage one's senses through repetitive movements or sensory stimulation.

How do fidget toys work?

Fidget toys work by providing a sensory experience that can divert a person's excess energy, thereby reducing stress and increasing concentration. This sensory input is crucial for individuals who might otherwise find themselves distracted or anxious, allowing them to better focus on tasks at hand.

Are fidget toys effective in the classroom setting?

Yes, fidget toys can be effective in a classroom setting, especially for students who have difficulty focusing or those with sensory processing disorders. When used appropriately, these toys can facilitate better academic engagement by allowing students to focus their attention on learning rather than on their sensory needs.

Can fidget toys help with focus and concentration?

Definitely. Fidget toys can help with focus and concentration by allowing the brain to filter out extra sensory information. This can help an individual to maintain attention on their primary task, making these toys helpful for studying, listening, and performing tasks that require sustained attention.

Are there different types of fidget toys available?

There are various types of fidget toys available, each catering to different sensory preferences. These include but are not limited to, stress balls, fidget spinners, sensory rings, and textured toys. Each type offers unique sensory feedback, such as tactile stimulation, visual interest, or motor movement, to meet various sensory needs.

Do all students benefit from using fidget toys in the classroom?

While fidget toys can benefit many students, especially those with attention difficulties or sensory processing disorders, they are not universally beneficial for all students. The effectiveness of fidget toys can vary based on an individual’s specific needs, the type of toy used, and how it is used within the classroom setting. Teachers and parents may need to observe and adjust to find the best fit for each student.

Is it distracting for other students when someone uses a fidget toy?

The distraction level of fidget toys for other students largely depends on the nature of the toy and how it's used. Typically, silent or quiet fidget toys designed for discreet use minimize distractions. Clear guidelines about appropriate use can help ensure that these tools benefit the user without disrupting others' learning experiences.

How do I introduce fidget toys into my classroom?

Introducing fidget toys into the classroom can be done smoothly by first explaining their purpose and benefits to students. It may be helpful to start with a trial period, allowing students to become accustomed to the toys. Providing specific examples of appropriate times and ways to use the toys can also guide students in their use.

Are there rules or guidelines for using fidget toys in the classroom?

Yes, establishing rules or guidelines is crucial for the effective use of fidget toys in the classroom. These may include restricting toy use to certain times of the day, ensuring the toys are not shared among students (for hygiene reasons), and selecting types that do not create visual or auditory distractions for others.

Can fidget toys be used as a reward for good behavior or academic achievement

Fidget toys can indeed be used as rewards for good behavior or academic achievement, fostering a positive classroom environment. However, it's essential to avoid creating a situation where the toys are seen only as incentives rather than tools to aid concentration and reduce anxiety.

Do students with ADHD benefit more from fidget toys than other students?

Students with ADHD may derive significant benefits from fidget toys, more so than their peers without ADHD. These toys can help in managing excess energy and improving concentration, particularly beneficial for students with attention difficulties.

What are some common misconceptions about fidget toys in the classroom?

A common misconception is that fidget toys are merely a distraction rather than a beneficial tool for students. Another is the belief that they only help children with ADHD or autism, overlooking their broad potential to support various students' focus and stress management.

Is there any research supporting the use of fidget toys in the classroom?

Various studies support the use of fidget toys, especially for students with ADHD, autism, or anxiety disorders. These studies suggest that the right kind of sensory stimulation can improve concentration and academic performance, highlighting the value of fidget toys in educational settings.

How do I address concerns or pushback from parents or other teachers about using fidget toys?

Addressing concerns about fidget toys involves sharing research and evidence on their benefits, clarifying misconceptions, and explaining the classroom rules established for their use. Open communication and sharing success stories can also help alleviate concerns from parents or fellow educators.

Are there certain types of fidget toys that are more suitable for certain students

Certainly, the suitability of fidget toys can vary based on individual needs and preferences. For example, stress balls may benefit students who require physical pressure to concentrate, while fidget spinners might better serve those needing motion to focus. Sensory-seeking students might prefer textured toys that provide tactile feedback, whereas visually-oriented learners could benefit from toys that offer colorful, moving parts.

Can fidget toys be used for students of all ages?

Fidget toys can be beneficial for students of all ages, from preschoolers to college students. The key is to select age-appropriate toys that meet the student's developmental stage and sensory needs, ensuring the toy is engaging and not seen as childish or overly complex.

Are there any safety concerns with using fidget toys in the classroom?

Safety concerns with fidget toys in the classroom primarily involve choking hazards for younger children and potential distractions if not used as intended. It's crucial to choose fidget toys that are durable, without small parts, and to establish clear guidelines for their appropriate use.

What are some creative ways to incorporate fidget toys into lesson plans or activities?

Fidget toys can be integrated into lesson plans by using them as tools for teaching concepts like physics (e.g., spinning toys to discuss angular momentum) or math (counting with fidget cubes). They can also serve as rewards for completing tasks or be incorporated into sensory breaks to help students reset their focus.

How can I ensure that fidget toys are not being misused or becoming a distraction in the classroom?

To ensure fidget toys are not misused, educators can set clear rules regarding when and how to use them, select toys that are quiet and non-distracting to others, and monitor their use closely. It can also be helpful to involve students in creating these guidelines to foster a sense of responsibility and respect.

Are there any alternatives to fidget toys for students who are not comfortable using them? Examples: stress balls, sensory bottles, doodle pads.

Alternatives to fidget toys include sensory bottles, which can provide visual stimulation; doodle pads for those who focus better when drawing; and elastic bands on chair legs for students who benefit from leg movement. These alternatives can offer similar benefits to traditional fidget toys, catering to students' diverse needs.

How effective are these alternatives compared to fidget toys?

The effectiveness of alternatives to fidget toys can be comparable, depending on the individual's sensory needs and preferences. Some students might find sensory bottles or doodle pads more engaging or less stigmatizing than traditional fidget toys. The key to effectiveness lies in matching the sensory tool to the student's specific requirements.

Are there any resources or organizations that provide support and information for incorporating fidget toys in the classroom?

Yes, there are numerous resources and organizations that offer support and information for incorporating fidget toys in the classroom. The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) is a prominent organization that provides guidance and research on the use of sensory tools, including fidget toys, to support students’ learning and attention needs. Additionally, Child Mind Institute and offer online resources and articles that discuss the benefits and implementation strategies for fidget toys in educational settings. Educational forums, such as Teachers Pay Teachers, also have a wealth of ideas shared by educators on how to effectively integrate fidget toys into classroom activities and learning experiences. These platforms can be invaluable for teachers seeking to create an inclusive and engaging learning environment for all students, especially those with sensory processing challenges.

Are there any potential drawbacks to using fidget toys in the classroom

While the benefits of fidget toys are widely acknowledged, there are potential drawbacks to their use in the classroom. One such concern is the possibility of fidget toys becoming a distraction, not just for the user but also for peers. If not properly managed, these toys might shift students' focus away from the lesson and onto the toy. Additionally, there's a risk of creating a dependency on these tools for concentration, which may hinder the development of internal strategies for managing attention and anxiety. Lastly, the social dynamics of the classroom could be affected if some students feel left out or jealous of others' toys, potentially leading to conflicts or distractions. Therefore, while fidget toys serve as helpful aids for many students, their implementation requires thoughtful consideration and management by educators.