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Today, we’re going to delve into a teacher-friendly, kid-friendly, and therapist-friendly approach to introducing fidgets and sensory materials into a classroom setting. If you’re a therapist, this would be an amazing multi-step, inclusion-based therapy plan.
If you’re a teacher, school psychologist, or guidance counselor who already has knowledge about sensory processing and you’re ready to take the leap on your own, this guide will be helpful to you as well!
What is a fidget?
A fidget is a small toy or object that a child (or an adult) manipulates in his or her hands while they’re reading, working, or listening.
Think about all of the ways we adults fidget throughout the day: we tap our pencil when we’re on a conference call, we twirl our hair while we wait at a traffic light, we play with a paperclip during a long meeting. Why?
Fidgets provide us with subtle movement and touch input that can help calm our bodies and keep our minds attentive, alert, and focused. Movement has been found to be a powerful component of focus and problem solving and fidgets provide an outlet for small movements of the hands while we work.
The need to fidget can be fulfilled by using something as complex as a commercially fabricated fidget toy with moving parts or something as simple as a piece of paper that someone folds and unfolds with their fingers. While some teachers and parents may think of fidgets as being distracting, when they are introduced in a thoughtful, structured way, they actually support students’ attention and learning rather than distracting from it.
How to Introduce Fidget Toys in the Classroom (Along With Other Sensory Materials)
1 || Introduce the sensory systems and talk about how they work.
No one can be expected to understand how to use fidget toys and other sensory materials if they don’t know how sensory processing really works.
And, if you’re picturing a good overview of the 5 senses (hearing, touch, sight, taste, and smell), you’re on the right track! But did you know that there are actually 7 sensory systems? Don’t forget to include an overview of the vestibular and proprioceptive systems too! These are the sensory systems that have to do with movement.
Give kids hands-on experience with their sensory systems and allow them to experiment with different types of sensory input while explaining how sensory processing works.
There’s a great page in our Magic 7 guide called “What is Sensory Processing?” as well as an entire lesson plan that allows kids to explore their sensory systems by exploring various sensory stations.
2 || Have kids explore their own unique sensory preferences
Now that everyone understands the sensory systems and how they all work together, it’s time to teach kids that we all have our own unique sensory needs and preferences.
Reassure kids that their sensory preferences and aversions, as long as they don’t stand in the way of daily life, are normal! They’re more than normal…they’re what make each of us special and unique!
Talk with them about the sensory experiences they find enjoyable and about the ones they really can’t stand. This is usually a really fun and lively discussion, as it validates everyone’s needs and differences.
As part of the discussion, ask kids what sensory experiences might help them stay calm, alert, and attentive in school. If you’re using The Magic 7 guide, the Sensory Preferences worksheet and the Finding a “Just Right” Feeling pages will be perfect to use here.
3 || Make your sensory materials list
Once you’ve helped the kids identify their preferences and what works for them, make a list of the items and strategies you’ll include in your classroom fidget and sensory kit. Include items that will address the preferences and needs you’ve identified in the group of students.
Instead of calling the sensory materials “toys”, consider reframing the items as “tools” to support their learning.
Possible items to include in your kit:
-CD or website with movement break songs/videos
-a quiet space in the room
-headphones with quiet music or white noise
-Old Soul Bracelets – Don’t miss these awesome and super stylish bracelets – perfect for fidgeting, hand strengthening, and targeting in-hand manipulation skills!
-photos of different stretches or a yoga deck
–weighted lap pad or weighted blanket
–clipboards so kids can work in different places away from their desks
-putty or play dough
Ideally, you’ll have lots of options that will appeal to different types of sensory needs and preferences. Some kids will need sensory strategies for calming, others will need sensory strategies to help with attention.
4 || Have everyone pitch in.
Having kids help assemble and create their own classroom fidgets and other sensory materials creates a sense of ownership and responsibility. Bonus…it’s also super fun!!
Set a couple of class periods aside to have kids work together to make their own materials to add to the classroom sensory kit! In the list above, you’ll find links to a few DIY sensory tools. This is also a great time to demonstrate and let kids experiment with how the materials should be used. Maybe even some “what not to do” examples would be helpful too!
When you’re finished, have kids help to label, organize, and store the sensory tools in an accessible place in the room.
5 – Create a Sensory Kit Contract
Divide the sensory materials into two categories: items that can be used during learning activities and items that can be used at break times throughout the day. Discuss how and when kids can request the materials or if there are certain materials that they can access without needing to ask permission.
Examples of rules/responsibilities to include in your contract:
-Be responsible for the items in our sensory toolkit – take good care of our tools!
-Wait for break times to ask if you can use a break-time item from the sensory kit.
-Raise your hand to ask to use learning-time items from the sensory kit.
-The items in our Sensory Kit are for all of the students in our classroom. Share and take turns.
-Use the items wisely to help you pay attention and calm your body, not to distract yourself or others.
If these rules and expectations are a fit for your classroom, download and print a copy of our free fidget and sensory toolkit contract to post on the wall!
Check out this video about how to introduce fidget tools in the classroom!
What are your favorite ways to incorporate movement and sensory input in the classroom setting? Leave us a comment below!
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Elaine Murphy says
Found a different perspective on this article. Talking with some friends that work with Special Needs, they found the toys to be distracting, and provide a more stemming activity. What are your thoughts on this.
I did visit a site, https://www.smartbargainstore.com which had some of the same toys displayed, but there were some puzzles like type ones too. Are these considered to be fidget toys also. Do they do the same things?
Thanks for your comment! I always say that a one-size-fits-all approach to introducing fidget tools is usually the wrong way to go. Some fidget tools can be distracting for some kids, so you really do have to use kind of a trial and error approach. If a child is visually stimming on a fidget spinner, I’d definitely say that this isn’t a good choice for him and I would move on to something else.
The good news is that there are are TONS of fidget tools available commercially, many that can be made by hand, and even some options that don’t require any buying or making at all! For example, some kids just like to fidget with a pipe cleaner or a bendy straw! As long as it’s an option that produces the desired effect of calmer behavior, increased focus, and enhanced engagement, a fidget tool can really be anything! Hope this helps! :)
Thanks for this article. I think fidgets can be very helpful for students that need them. Once, I got hit in the head with a fidget and realized that I needed to help kids understand the guidelines for using them. We created this video to help: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=95w8OL0EYBU
OK Essay says
I teach with a fidget cube in my hand and I have two children in my class that use one. The rule is simple: if I see it, I confiscate it until the end of the day – I have not had to confiscate one for over two months. I believe it benefits those children.
The fidget spinners on the other hand had to be banned in the class as they became the ‘cool toy’ and I fail to see how they can help someone concentrate when you have to put effort into spinning it fast. It is just trying to cash in on the ‘fidget toy’ market.
Sue Parker says
Great ideas to make my ideas come to fruition in the classroom
Robert Price says
These toys are not cool anymore. I think kids won’t like them now. Right?
In fact, I can say that now it is very difficult to understand what they want in our education system. If the program is still normal for beginners, it is a nightmare for high school. Constant written works, essays and other nonsense. Fortunately, I have already managed to find data on how to get around it without problems. I found what helped me at https://www.writingjudge.com/ and I am very grateful to them for it. Here the guys already know what and how they need to do. I hope that I was able to help.
Charly Rich says
I have thought so many times of entering the blogging world as I love reading them. I think I finally have the courage to give it a try. Thank you so much for all of the ideas!
Are you able to have sensory items that ALL students can use whether or not they “need” them? This might help take away the mystery or fascination with other students getting toys and some are not. Obviously, there will be certain items only some students can use but it might be fun to see how students choose different items to self-regulate. Every human has sensory needs and it certainly wouldn’t hurt little ones to explore what they like and don’t like as far as sensory preferences. :) Just a suggestion, as I am not an occupational therapist.