Fidget spinners are currently all the rage in most households, schools and preschools in New Zealand. With some schools banning them and others embracing them what is the impact of these toys on children’s learning and development? Do our children benefit from such a thing, or are they just too hard to manage in a classroom?
Many schools have now banned Fidget Spinners (along with our childhood fun such as marbles, and bulrush), and some like Palmerston North’s Roslyn School are using them as teaching tools. So how do we know if they are beneficial or bust? Taking a look at how children learn helps us understand if they have a role in the classroom.
We all learn through different ways – these are called learning styles and they are separated into the broad groups of: visual, auditory and kinaesthetic. Visual means we learn through seeing, auditory means we learn mostly through listening, and kinaesthetic means we learn mostly through moving.
In fact, all learning is based in movement from the time we are in utero until the time we die. To see, our eyes move and focus, our ear drums move when we hear and our body is in constant movement as we take information through all of our other senses. This is the one aspect of learning that does not change as we age we just become more sophisticated at doing it.
We as individuals will be more dominant in one of these methods. Visual and kinesthetic are the more prominent learning styles with auditory being the least. (Are you now questioning why so much of our educational system is based on listening? You are right to wonder, but that is another topic!)
Fidget spinners are the latest craze but they are not new in terms of teaching aids in the classroom. For decades teachers have allowed highly tactile, kinesthetic children small toys and manipulatives to hold quietly to help increase their listening capacity and focus on tasks. These have mostly been used with children with special educational needs particularly Autism and ADHD.
Yet, even now, big companies are utilising methods such as stress balls, walking meetings and a range of workspaces to benefit business productivity through movement! As adults, we are learning that movement helps focus and focus equal learning.
As a mum of four, with three boys, I fully understand the need for children to move when learning – do boys ever sit still? However, also, as a teacher, I completely understand how distracting it can be to other children when some children are fidgeting in the classroom! So how do we best meet each child’s needs, and also use their interests to shape their learning experience?
So do Fidget Spinners need to be banned? I don’t think so. I think that clever teachers can maximise them for benefits to both children and teachers. Does this take time and effort, absolutely! However, if children are showing such an interest in something it makes sense to use that interest to teach the curriculum. If we are trying to raise children to love learning the question we need to ask is why do we continually take away the things that they most love, such as fields, sports, arts, a range of games, and now Fidget Spinners?
If schools are open to finding ways to use this interest, the Inquiry learning method has the potential to do just that. It takes real life problems and interests and researches, teaches and creates methods of learning for that interest. Using Inquiry in the classroom is one-way Fidget spinners can move out of the ‘toy craze’ category and into the teaching tool category.
This is what we see in the example of Roslyn School. Suggestions for schools could be to adopt an “if you make your own you can have one” policy, make them as part of the curriculum, or set boundaries around their use, such as only in particular lessons, or at particular times in the classroom.
Like any other item in a classroom Fidget Spinners must be used within the rules of the classroom and teachers can maximise their use to reward and change behaviour. This creates a win-win. Children are born to move and through movement, all learning happens. Fidgeting is just one way that children can expel pent-up energy so that they have the control to focus.
Another way to help children focus is to activate their vestibular system through spinning. Stand the children up, have them spin three times to the right with a ten second eyes closed count after, and then three times to the left with a ten-second eyes closed count after. This will satisfy the brain’s need for movement and allow the child to focus on the task in front of them.