A Teacher’s Take on Fidget Spinners: Tools or Toys?


Are fidget spinners here to stay? And how’s a teacher to deal with them? A teacher weighs in with ideas…and insight.

By Jacquie McTaggart

Optimist: Any teacher who thinks interest in the wildly popular fidget spinner will dissipate over the summer.

Fidget spinners, the latest version of stress relievers, look like a cross between a ceiling fan and the head of an electric razor. 

Originally recommended for students diagnosed with ADHD, autism, or an anxiety disorder, fidget spinners are supposed to serve as a substitute for hair twirling, nail-biting, and chewing on objects.

Are these gadgets achieving the purpose for which they were intended? That’s debatable.

Occupational therapists and behavior specialists continue to endorse them, but others are skeptical. As of this writing, there appears to be no scientific studies that justify any specific health claims associated with fidget spinners.

But one thing is certain. Fidget spinners have taken the country by storm and are making headlines everywhere. Schools are banning them, stores can’t keep them on the shelves, and at least one child (10-year old Britton Joniec from Houston) has choked on a spinner’s dislodged ball bearing.

Although fidget spinners are advertised as concentration tools, many teachers say they are nothing more than a monumental distraction. A toy. They make noise, and some of them – especially the pricey ones – light up. Kids compare, boast about, trade, sell, and steal them. And more than a few spinners have taken unmanned flights across crowded classrooms.

Schools are dealing with this issue in a variety of ways. According to the SpinnerList, a database for fidget spinners, 32% of the largest high schools in the United States have banned the toys completely. The remaining 68%, plus most elementary and middle school administrators, have told teachers to grapple with the problem however he or she sees fit.

Sigh.

Some teachers ban them from the classroom, some confiscate and keep them in the teacher’s desk for that day or period, some require a doctor’s permit, and some use the “just keep it out of my sight and earshot” rule.

But others…drum roll…are turning these driving-me-crazy toys into learning tools!

As I was writing this piece I couldn’t help but think about the old adage, “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.” Perhaps it’s time we join them – and wait for the fad to pass.

Fidget spinners are getting a lot of attention today, but like all fads, the novelty will fade. They’ll be stuffed under beds and in the corners of dresser drawers, waiting to resurface one day and provide a little jolt of “remember the fidget spinners” nostalgia.

Iowa teacher Jacquie McTaggart is a frequent presenter at ILA state conferences and the author of two books: From the Teacher’s Desk and If They Don’t Learn the Way You Teach…Teach the Way They Learn.

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