My Favorite Fidgets and Where to Find Them
by Stacy M. Turke
on the On the Road with @stacyturke OTR blog
Pick up a newspaper or open your Facebook page these days and it is hard to avoid articles and posts about the importance of movement for our health and well-being. In terms of general health, the effects of sitting have been likened to the impact of sugar on the body. Classroom teachers, OTs, and PE teachers, among others, are blogging and posting research about the benefits of movement and alternatives to traditional seating and classroom design, all in an effort to make sure that young brains are getting the movement needed to remain focused and to enhance learning. Brain breaks are so commonplace in classrooms that some kids in several of my schools went dressed as their favorite character from Koo Koo Kanga Roo for Halloween this year ! This school OT is grateful to be able to support helping kids get the movement they need.
But sometimes moving the whole body is either not possible or doesn’t fill the need for a particular child or group of children. It can be distracting to be up and moving if the classroom is taking a reading assessment, for example. While there are many other tools available as options for helping kids self-regulate in school, one of the more common recommendations is to use a Fidget Tool. And interestingly, now that we call them fidget “tools” instead of fidget “toys,” acceptance of them in the classroom has increased dramatically in the districts I work in. So the question I get more frequently now is What are the best Fidget Tools, and Where can I get them? The answer is not quite as simple as “this one right here!” because not every tool works for every child or even every teacher. A little trial and error with a small collection of tools will likely reveal which will be best for the fidgety kids in your classroom or living room, while keeping the distractions to adults and teachers to a minimum.
Please note: These are my favorites. I am not being paid to use or suggest them, I’m just sharing!
My Favorite Fidgets and Where to Find Them
Hand Fidget Tools are used to keep hands busy and to provide deep pressure input on a small scale. Hand fidgets can be purchased in so many different places because there are so many different kinds that can be effective. Some of my favorites include:
These are my all-time favorite hand fidget tool. I even keep a purple one handy when giving presentations or workshops because they work for me as well! They are called Squiggle Coils, and they are available by the quarter-pound or half-pound bag (pictured) at www.pdppro.com within their Hand Fidget section.
Small Squishy Animals
These pictured are from a bag of sea creatures I purchased from www.orientaltrading.com. There are a wide variety of types of creatures available at this website (dinosaurs, horses, and frogs, to name a few) and are sold in packages of 48. Seasonally, these kinds of tools can be purchased in classroom sized packages in the $1-3 section at your local Target store or in the holiday sections of other discount or Dollar stores.
Other Squishy Tools
Squishy tools have an advantage in the classroom because they are quiet. So I have quite a collection! Target, Oriental Trading, Dollar Stores…you name it and I’ve purchased tools there! This squishy block of swiss cheese, with two squishy mice moving through it, is not one I often share with students because frankly it has such a “toy” quality. But it works for older students and adults, so I keep it in my fidget tool box. You can find it, along with all kinds of other fidgets appropriate for older students and adults at www.officeplayground.com. Others include Porcupine Balls and pencil grips available at a variety of sources online and at Walmart, among others.
Soft Stuffed Animal Tools
Do you, like me, have a box of Beanie Babies tucked away somewhere because you thought they were going to make you rich back in the day? No…? Well, you are going to wish you did when I tell you that they might not make you rich but they can help fill your students’ fidget needs! These tiny bean bag animals are quiet, soft on the outside, and the little pellets inside give a fidgety feel that can keep hands busy during large group lessons. If you want to try using beanies as fidgets, you will really have to up your game in terms of teaching the difference between a Tool, that helps you do your job/work, and a Toy, which distracts from work. But for some kids, the combo of the soft texture with the pellets inside, coupled with the comfort that can accompany the stuffed-animal aspect, can be the perfect tool to help provide a calm focus for work. I no longer feel badly that I spent weeks hunting down Tank the Armadillo Beanie…nor do I feel badly that I can’t even sell these things for a quarter at a garage sale. Because I now have all these fidget tools to use with kids! (This one, pictured, is an older Beanie Baby knock-off. It’s Max, from The Grinch Who Stole Christmas…recognize him?)
Fidgets that Fidget
So these aren’t for everyone, I will be honest. Kids often LOVE them, however when a fidget moves, or clicks, or twists, the action and noise can be very distracting to others. But in the right circumstance, with the right student and teacher, these tools can give a student an opportunity to move and create while listening and paying attention. I have a few students who use tools like these during Reading Street lessons on the Smart Board. Giving these students a fidget with moving parts keeps their hands to themselves and off their peers, while keeping them present for the lesson. This can be effective too while doing homework, or riding in a car, provided that your child is over age 3 as they may contain small parts. In addition to my cheese cube/mouse fidget (above), some of my favorites include this Wooden Fidget Puzzle and Klixx available from a variety of sources, and pictured here from www.officeplayground.com.
Foot Fidgets keep feet busy while adding deep pressure and movement into a student’s sensory diet. You already know which kids would be good candidates to try a foot fidget; these are the kids who swing their legs and bruise your shins when their sitting across from you! Oral fidgets work for those kids who chew up the tops of their pencils or the collars of their shirts. Give these a peek:
I’ve written about this before, but it can’t be overstated how effective this tool can be for kids who are wiggly in their seats. Just tie a piece of theraband into a loop and place it onto the front legs of their chair or desk. I’ve also purchased these ready-made Fidgeting Foot Bands from www.therapyshoppe.com. They come in Original and “XT” (extra tough).
Yep, it’s jewelry you can chew! Kids love these because they look cool and add the deep chew they need. Teachers and parents often love them because they keep the tool close to the student so it is less likely that the tool will be lost. There are many different sources for these items, including www.funandfunction.com, www.kidcompanions.com, www.arktherapeutic.com, even Amazon. You can convert your favorite chewy into “chewelry” through the use of a breakaway lanyard.
This is my single all-time favorite self-regulation tool. I am a gum chewer from waayyyy back! These days, there is ALWAYS a pack of spearmint gum in my purse for my own personal use. And in my therapy tote, there is always a baggie with several different flavors of gum for my students to use. And I do mean “use” because I teach my students how to use gum as a tool, so that I don’t have kids distracted by the gum and don’t have custodians and principals upset because there is gum all over the carpet. You should see their eyes when I tell them, “Let me teach you how to chew gum…” because they seem to think that’s pretty goofy. Turning gum chewing into a lesson on how and why seems to give it power, and since there is all kinds of research available about the effectiveness of gum in supporting focus and mood (here’s one example), I am happy to work with teachers and principals to override their “no gum” rules.
My fidget tool bag is full of all kinds of options, and I’ve just shared a few of my favorites. What are your favorite fidget tools? Please share in the comments below, bonus points if you can add information about where they can be purchased or how they can be made!
Stacy M. Turke, OTR/L: “On the Road with @stacyturke OTR blog.” Stacy has been a school OT for 30 years with the same school district in Michigan in what she describes as “my dream job.” Her career has ranged from working in a “center-based” school to working in public and private schools throughout the county, including those in the rural, suburban, and urban areas. She has experience working with students with a wide range of educational needs, to include cognitive impairments, Autism Spectrum Disorder, physical challenges, sensory processing needs, and many other learning challenges. She expresses her enthusiasm when she says “This career has been fulfilling, always presenting new and interesting challenges, and is NEVER boring!” You can connect with Stacy on Pinterest at https://www.pinterest.com/stacyturke/ and on Twitter at @stacyturke.Disclaimer: The information shared on the Go-To-For-OT Blog or affiliated Twitter, Facebook, or Pinterest sites, and shared on social or public media or as links on other sites is for general informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for sound professional medical advice or evaluation and care from your physician/medical team or any other qualified health care providers. Therefore, the authors and administrator of these posts take no responsibility for any liability, loss, or risk taken by individuals as a result of applying the ideas or resources. Photos are the property of the author and should not be used without her permission. Photos that are linked to an originating site are the property of that site and their use should include the link provided.