Today's children have some of the highest educational expectations and best learning tools of any generation, but the debate about what does and doesn't work in academics is still annoyingly fiery. Case in point: As Kate Thayer of The Chicago Tribune reports, teachers and school staff are implementing bans on fidget toys, most notably the viral, three-pronged product that spins around a center ball bearing.

The heart of the controversy

Fidget toys like the three-prong spinner are designed mainly for kids (or adults, and by 'or adults', I actually mean I have one -- and I love it) with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or autism. People with these conditions often seek out different types of sensory input, such as motion or sound, because the brain is developed in such a way that makes normal sensory integration and regulation more difficult. Fidget toys provide the stimulation they're looking for, helping them stay calm and focus better. It's actually not all that different from doodling, which can keep you from mentally checking out and aid memory. Scientifically proven, in fact.

But according to teachers and staff, kids--even those without the above types of conditions--are pulling out the toys. Instead of paying attention to the lesson, the kids are watching the fidgets, subsequently missing important information teachers are presenting. Teachers themselves are apparently get distracted, too, either generally via vision, or by having to stop and tell students to leave the fidgets alone -- oh the irony.

Reason for bigger concern

Ultimately, both sides have valid points and research to back up what they're saying. But the situation raises a bigger question: Why are children with no disorders also desperate to pull the fidgets out in the first place? It might be that they're responding to the stress they experience in the modern classroom, or that they are bored and just want to play, having trouble learning based on the way information is presented. That parallels for adults, who are loaded with responsibilities meriting a distraction. Either way, we have a problem and need to talk about it -- it's not just about a 'toy'.

Published on: May 4, 2017
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