Many times, your students with ADHD or sensory disorders can multitask, or have something in their hands, to promote focus, attention, calming, and active listening. Fidgets, when used appropriately, are an excellent way to help students self-regulate in the classroom.
Group Instruction Fidgets
During a read-aloud or group instruction (which might be at the carpet in really young classrooms), a student might be able to have something small and quiet in their hand as a way to direct energy that might be otherwise used to cause disruption. These fidgets might be a Koosh ball, the hard side of velcro, or a puff ball, something small that fits in their hand. In older classrooms where group instruction might take place with students seated at desks, students might have individual fidgets at their desks, like Secret Velcro on their chair (which you can read about in this post!).
Some teachers have a hard time using fidgets in this kind of setting because, inevitably, every student wants a turn. So, let them! Give every student a turn with the fidget, whether it’s a bumpy seat or handheld fidgets, and start the “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” process – students try different things to find out what is just right for them. After that, I find that in a three week period, rotating the fidget around the classroom helps the fidgets become part of the classroom culture.
This is a collection of fidgets (things like a Tangle or Legos) that are treated like a station and put at a table or certain spot in the classroom for students to use. Typically, these kits are kept in a shoebox or a container that is not clear so it isn’t something kids are distracted or tempted by. This kit also includes a silent timer, like a Time Timer or something similar, to keep students from spending too much time here.
Students might use this station during writing. If they are having a hard time focusing, they might need to take a brain break and by going to the fidget station. Kids that are EI or having emotional problems, can use this station for “chill out time.” Give them a timer and they can head to the fidget station to take a time out from the situation or get their mind off the problem. Taking Legos apart and putting them back together can be great to help students refocus.
Misuse is a common classroom management issue when using fidgets. My rule is “If you misuse it, you lose it.” Many of the kids that really need the fidgets know that they will be able to pay more attention and get in trouble less if they have their fidget and so they don’t tend to misuse them.
It might take some trial and error to find the appropriate fidget for a student. You also want to use your best judgement (for example, don’t choose a small object for a student that has an oral stimulation issue that might put it in their mouth). Sometimes kids need something that feels more rough that provides a sensory input for them to be able to stay focused or they might need something that unwraps and comes together.
Make sure that whatever is selected doesn’t become a distraction to other students’ learning. If fidgets become a big problem in the carpet area, one option is to put the student with the fidget in a chair sitting back a bit from the group. They can still hear and participate, but the fidget isn’t drawing attention from the instruction.
It’s important to get quality fidgets (dollar store fidgets end up falling apart too quickly!). We love the Therapy Shoppe for purchasing fidgets because you can get lots of different quality fidgets. If cost is an issue, we’ve had great success in applying for grants, especially if you can show that you are planning to use the kit in multiple grade levels to serve multiple students.
We’ve had a lot of success with these kits in the schools we’ve worked with. In one school, we had a shoe box kit in every single classroom. It was either out in the hallway or in a certain spot in the classroom. When students saw fidgets or bumpy seats, it wasn’t out of the ordinary, it was just part of the culture.
How have you used fidgets? What classroom management tips have you discovered?
Be sure to check out our free Behavior, ADHD, Sensory Integration Resources – including a great checklist, helper cards, and a free, on-demand webinar!