Sunday, July 11, 2010

Fidget Toys

My family and I just returned from a week long vacation (3 hours ago to be specific). The one thing that helped my husband and I survive the 9 hour drive each way with two young kids was bags of toys, including fidget toys. I had a large bag of toys for each child to sort through and play with. So when my son got tired of playing with his cars, magna-doodle, and puzzle, the fidget toys were his next choice. He especially liked the stretchy, light up caterpillar fidget. On one of the "pit stops" I purchased a visual fidget; it is a 5 inch ball with a small fish and glitter inside it.

The term fidget basically just describes what a person would do with that toy...fidget. Fidgets are fun to turn around, pull, squeeze, shake, etc. Some children can benefit from them in the classroom to help them "wiggle" with their hands instead of getting out of their chair. For some kids, they have to be moving in order to listen or they zone out, so a fidget allows them to still be moving, just it is with their hands instead of their entire body. Fidgets are also beneficial for long car rides or waiting in doctor's office lobbies. When the child is playing with it, it keeps their mind off having to keep their body still. Some fidgets are textured which stimulates the tactile sense, whereas others are aiming at the visual, auditory, oral, or proprioceptive sensory systems. But you have to be careful with the auditory fidgets depending upon where you will use it, because you wouldn't want it to be too loud! Although fidgets are beneficial for many children, they are especially helpful for kids with sensory processing disorder (SPD), autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and ADD/ADHD.

Some things I had for my 2 year old son in his fidget bag for our long car ride included: small cars, fuzzy ball, stretchy caterpillar, zip up bag full of various action figures, wind-up fish, mini See-n-Say, aquarium tubing (for chewing), and other odds-and-ends that were too large for him to swallow had he decided to put them in his mouth. I'm not going to falsely say that for the entire 9 hours my son forgot he was strapped into his car seat against his will and was as happy as a lark, but I will say when he fussed, having toys as a distraction helped immensely! Now for my six year old daughter, she enjoyed her bag of toys also, but she has always been a champion traveler and wouldn't fuss even if she had nothing to do at all. But the fidgets made it more fun for her!

Still not sure what to use with your little one? Here is a link I found for some fidget toys that might stimulate some thought:

Toys for Learners: Trainers Warehouse Product Departments

I have also seen some great fidget toys at Walgreen's, Wal-Mart, and other retail stores. The dollar stores sometimes have good fidgets- just have to dig! Try to get a variety of fidget toys, because what works at one moment may not at the next, so it is nice to have quite a few in your bag of toys. I even save party favors from birthday parties my children have attended and toss them into the bag of toys. You might even want to go through your children's toy boxes to find fidget treasures. Another thing that makes good fidgets is the toys that come with a child's meal from a fast food restaurant as well as the prizes from cereal boxes. One of my favorite fidgets came from McDonald's over 4 years ago; in fact, I would go through the drive through to buy more kid's meals just for more of this toy; it was one of those intriguing toys that helps visual and fine-motor skills. By the way, I rarely eat fast food!


  1. Thank you for the many great ideas for fidget toys! I am an occupational therapy graduate student and we have been familiarized with fidget toys for awhile now, but not to this extent! One of our professor's is very sensory-based and always supplied us students with a bin full of fidget toys during her 3 hour lecture. The fidget toys were very refreshing even for 20-22 year old students!
    That was our first experience with fidget toys and recently we just finished a case on autism where fidget toys were brought back into perspective. Here we talked about allowing fidget toys into the classroom for all of the children to use for universal design and to facilitate inclusion for the child with autism. What are your thoughts about fidget toys during class in an elementary school setting? Do you think they would be too distracting while the teacher is giving a lesson? I can see where a chew tube at the end of a pencil would be Ok but to address the different learning styles and sensory preferences of children, some textures, sounds and visual appearances of certain fidget toys could be too distracting for the other children. Do you have any ideas or suggestions of appropriate fidget toys for situations like this?
    I am also glad you shared your experience of fidget toys with your children because I think that this is a great tool for any parent to have in their tool box, whether it is for long car rides or waiting in long lines, etc. I am not a parent but have many younger cousins who could benefit from fidget toys when their attention spans are running low. Quiet fidget toys would also be great in church!

    -Michele, OTS

  2. Thanks for your comment Michelle. I think that fidgets can be distracting at school, if not for the child using them then maybe for the child sitting next to them. But if they are necessary for a particular child to self-regulate and participate in schoolwork, then I agree with using them. In my daughter's first grade classroom (public regular ed.), the kids are allowed to use fidgets at certain times of the day, including reading time in which they have cardboard "dividers" between each of them at this time, so I would think it wouldn't be too distracting. The school allows silly bands to be worn, which I think is like a fidget because most kids are fiddling with them. I told my daughter she could wear them to school but only if she can still pay attention, and when she came home after the first day of wearing them she said she won't wear the silly bands to school again because she was too, an honest six year old! Luckily, her teacher has only been teaching for a couple of years so she is open to new ideas and seems to be aware of sensory integration and ways to improve attention spans.

  3. Thanks for the information. Really it is very helpful when you are out for medical check up,car drive etc. In some schools teachers recommend fidget toys as they are best stress reliever,help in developing attention. Do you think really it helps in developing attention, rather than distracting.

  4. Yes, Henry I do believe it helps with attention, that is if the child needs to move or "fidget" to focus. For those that don't have that need, then it is a distraction, but usually they will eventually put the item away. For some children who are sensory seekers, a "fidget" may not provide enough input, and in that case they need full body movement which gets a lot more difficult in tight spaces! But a "sensory diet" of proprioceptive activities helps such as pushing/pulling items, weighted vest/blanket, and other things that require whole body resistance. Thanks for your comment

  5. Fidgets can be a very effective self-regulation tool! Use fidgets for calming or alerting, to promote focusing and attending, and to increase tactile awareness of fingers/hands.
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