Why schools shouldn’t ban fidget toys: the benefit they have for learning

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Beck Iannucci

In 2017 the educational system felt threatened. Schools were quickly pushing for a fidget spinner ban. The fidget had erupted in popularity, seeming to be in every store. It was labeled as a trendy item. Yet the original purpose was lost on consumers. A device to help kids focus became an unnecessary toy. The effect the fidget spinner fiasco has on neurodivergent students is a long lasting problem. (Neurodivergent is an umbrella term for individuals with different brains.)

Contrary to popular belief, fidget toys aren’t distracting. Fidget toys are actually a way to efficiently help a neurodivergent person. Dr. John Ratey is a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School who has studied this topic extensively in addition to writing books on the subject. Dr. Ratey´s research, among others, have proven that physical activities affect the brain the same amount that the brain controls the body. This equal relationship means that fidgeting increases neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine to the same degree that ADHD medication does. Meaning that fidget toys are actually substituting meds that are needed to sharpen focus. Dr. Sydney Zentall, a professor at  Purdue University, has also studied this issue. Her research has shown that multitasking actually helps the brain focus on the main task. 

This focus spans beyond ADHD. Students who are part of the autism spectrum and students with anxiety disorders are also benefiting. Many who have autism also have a sensory processing disorder. This disorder means the individual has difficulty processing information from their senses. This could be a difficulty with taste, light, sights, sounds, smells, and textures. The trigger depends on the person. Despite this oversensitivity, some might need more input. As a result, the wide range of fidgets available leaves room for the person to find one that’s soothing.  In a similar way, fidgets help with anxiety disorders. Fidgets can relax someone who´s starting to panic. Something that’s soft or smells nice may be what you need to calm down.

But fidgets aren’t just for your emotional well being. Did you know they’re good for your physical wellbeing too? Dr. Padilla, an assistant professor at the University of Missouri in Columbia who studies nutrition and exercise, studied this topic with his colleagues. The group had inspiration from how people stretch to regain blood flow after sitting for a long period of time. Using this knowledge they conducted an experiment where the focus was the positives of lower body fidgeting. Eleven healthy college students moved one leg continuously and kept the other flat on the ground for three hours. As blood flow was being monitored, the researchers saw blood flow rise in the fidgeting leg as the unmoving leg declined. After the three hours, the eleven were tested again and their unmoving leg didn´t respond as fast as the fidgeting leg when it came to the artery’s blood pressure response. The experiment successfully proved that fidgeting is healthy for a person’s physical wellbeing.

A few years ago, the internet lifted up the fidget industry by creating a high demand and as fidgets became trendy they were taken from kids that needed them. The fidget spinner bans set a president that any activity was distracting and teachers should take them away from students. We need to acknowledge the research that puts down that claim and allow kids to have fidgets that help their education.