Fidget toys have had a lot of attention recently (here and here are examples), much of it negative. However, they’re great for helping pupils maintain attention in class if used correctly and can be a key part of a positive class climate. (See my previous post: ‘Fidget toys: Good. Poor Expectations: Bad.‘)
Here are 8 musts to get the most out of fidget toys.
- Ensure eyes are on you and not fidget toys. Fidget toys are there to maintain attention. Eye contact is one of the best indicators of attention (Zeki, 2009). Therefore, if eyes aren’t on you, they’re not working. Remove the toy.
- Play with fidget toys under the table. This way, other pupils won’t be tempted to look. If they’re demanding visual attention, remove the toy.
- Fidget toys shouldn’t make any noise. You can choose where to look, but you can’t choose to not hear. If you’re the person next to a noisy fidget toy, you’ll be distracted, negating the positives of being able to maintain attention. Remove the toy.
- Explain your expectations clearly. Discuss with children why fidget toys are useful and explain all of these expectations. That way, there can be no confusion and pupils can accept the responsibility for maintaining attention.
- Reinforce your expectations quickly and calmly. Memorize and use the phrase: ‘Fidget toys help concentration. If they’re not helping concentration, you lose the responsibility.’ Give one chance. Remove the toy.
- Tell parents. One of the biggest flash points for teacher stress is that parents have been sending fidget toys in to school (here is an example of the effects). Why wouldn’t they want their children to have them if they know their benefits? Therefore, it’s important to share your expectations for fidget toys. Put a message on your website or send a letter home – it’ll reinforce what you’re saying with consistency.
- Use praise when fidget toys work. When they’re being used properly, say so. Say why they’re so good too. It will reinforce your expectations and the sense of responsibility you’re trying to encourage by helping pupils take charge of their learning.
- Be firm. Fidget toys aren’t there to add to your stress. If they’re not working, remove them. As with any classroom expectations, removing ambiguity and backing yourself up pays huge dividends in the long run.
When I see comments about pupils throwing them around or not paying attention, I know there isn’t a problem with the fidget toys. Rather, it’s a problem with expectations. Therefore, it’s vital not to ban them outright and take away the benefits for individual children. Give your pupils responsibility, but give them clarity first.
Zeki, C. (2009). The importance of non-verbal communication in classroom management. Procedia Social and Behavioral Sciences. P1443-1449.