Don’t Ban the Spinners – Teach Kids about Fidgeting and the Brain!

Have you seen them yet?  They are small objects that kids spin around with their fingers like a pinwheel and they come in lots of different patterns and colors.  Kids are having a blast seeing the different ways they can spin them on their bodies, and battling who can make theirs spin the longest.  Many parents are reporting that their kids are spending less time on their smartphones as their hands are kept busy with the spinners.  Some kids are noticing that they can focus better when their hands are occupied.  So, what’s the problem?  They can create a big distraction.  As a result, some schools are now banning the use of Spinners in classrooms.

“But I finally had a way to fit in!”

Kids who have ADHD have been encouraged to fidget for years as a way to help them focus and control their constant movement.  Now that there is a tool they can actually use and seem like a cool kid – they are having to give them up along with everyone else.  Why?  Because many kids are becoming distracted while using them or by others who are playing with them.

Use as an ADHD Tool – not Toy!

For years, through my Teacher Training and Parent Coaching, I have been educating adults about the value of fidgeting and encouraging them to teach children the same.  I have asked that teachers keep a box of fidgets in their classrooms so that those who benefit from movement can do so without fear of shame or embarrassment.  And it works.  Here is what I teach:

  1. Teach ALL kids that everyone’s brain works differently. Fact – some people are able to focus better when they move.  You should know that for people with ADHD, there is a consistent pattern of below-normal levels of the neurotransmitters Dopamine and Norepinephrine in the brain’s prefrontal cortex, which contribute to maintaining alertness, increasing focus, and sustaining thought, effort, and motivation – but you don’t need to explain that to the kids. My goal is to not put a spotlight on “those” kids.  They have enough spotlight on them already.  I want to normalize the need for different styles of learning, not make it hierarchal as if one is better than the other.  It’s how we learn to manage our differences that is important.
  2. Demonstrate “fidgeting in the background.” I hold up a long rubber stick (you can see what it looks like in my article “Can’t You Just Sit Still and Pay Attention?”) and move it in my hands as I speak.  I am showing that I can effectively engage in conversation as I move the object without it negatively impacting my ability to speak and listen.  The object is my “secondary focus”.  It’s in the background.  It’s a TOOL that, if I was someone who did struggle because of lower levels of the necessary neurotransmitters, would be very beneficial in activating my brain.
  3. Distinguish if it’s being used as a TOY. Then, I demonstrate that if I start paying attention to the object in my hand, perhaps manipulating that long rubber stick with intention to make it into a pretzel, then I am no longer fidgeting, I am PLAYING.  The object has become my “primary focus”.
  4. The fidgeting cannot be Distracting to others or Destructive. Next, I start tapping my rubber stick on the table as I continue to speak.  I am showing that I have no trouble holding my thoughts and speaking clearly, however, of course this is distracting – and annoying – to others around me.  And if I swing the stick around, I risk knocking things over or hitting others accidentally.  I have now clearly demonstrated that there need to be rules and expectations around appropriate fidgeting.

So, what is the take away here?  Let’s not ban these Spinners.  Nor those Fidget Cubes that some others kids are using.  Use this as a teachable opportunity!  Our goal as educators and parents is to help children learn about themselves and how they can best learn and function in the world.  Let them experiment with different tools and techniques.  Set your boundaries and expectations.  Perhaps they can keep the object out of view of others, using it with their hands in their laps or keeping it in the pocket of their sweatshirt.  We want them to know how to best function while in religious settings, in movie theaters, and anywhere else they are around other people.  Don’t ban the objects – teach all kids the distinction between Tool and Toy.  Let’s celebrate and let kids with ADHD who need movement finally get to do so without stigma.

Other articles on that discuss Fidgeting:

Trouble Focusing – Try Fidgeting with Purpose

Response to Mom: Frustrated at School

Help a Teacher to Understand a Child

17 thoughts on “Don’t Ban the Spinners – Teach Kids about Fidgeting and the Brain!”

  1. Great article in support of Spinners/fidgets! My young adult son (who has ADHD) has found them to be incredibly helpful during business meetings. Instead of doodling in front of his colleagues where the VP might think he in not paying attention, his hand is under the table “doodling” on his Spinner – it’s fantastic! He feels much calmer, more focused and less insecure (now no one is looking at him doodling on paper). Send the word out, these Spinners really work!!!! Thanks Cindy for your voice….Elizabeth

  2. Love this take on the spinner. What a great way to distinguish between a toy and a tool. I will be sharing this advice with all my clients. Thank you, Cindy! 🙂

  3. I absolutely agree! I allow my students to bring them into my class. I need to do the lesson on tools vs toys and I think it will work beautifully! Thank you for this article. It has been on my mind since they came out. My son also has the spinner and the cube. The spinner DOES help him to concentrate when he uses it as a tool. 🙂

  4. I have been having this battle with my 6th grade special ed students- most are add/ADHD boys. I have demonstrated and explained but they are not understanding. I want to let them use the tool, but without parent support I am afraid they will continue to be toys and used inappropriately.

  5. I love these things! I work with inclusion students at a high school. Spinners are wonderful!!! Wish I had one for each student!

  6. I don’t agree, with exception. I’m a 60+ year old retired soldier turned school teacher with extremely strong ADHD (or whatever the current acronym is) tendencies. I have always “doodled” in meetings, and have occasionally had to stand up when appropriate. The spinners are ok, when appropriate, however, they do not take away from cell phone addiction in the classroom, they compound it from my current experience in a high school classroom. These devises are now added to the learning distraction, not diminishing it, in my experience.

  7. I teach my children, students and teachers that there is a difference between a “fidget” and a “distraction”. The spinners are no different than any other fidget. I use the same approach to alternative seating ( exercise balls, spinning chairs, etc.). They don’t need to have them removed just taught how to use them.

  8. This is exactly what I have done in my classroom. As more students in my classroom came to school then we as a class Community begin to notice there was a difference between fidgeting and playing. So we brainstormed at chart and made rules that we could all live by so that they would not get banned. I would upload a picture of the chart that they brainstormed with me but I don’t think there’s a way to upload pictures on this comment 🙂

  9. FYI, for anyone interested in brain-based education, there’s a documentary that covers this topic quite well. While it’s told more from the human experience standpoint, it also covers most of the practical aspects of using brain-based teaching.. might be worth a look to some SDs for professional development credits.


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