Staying still and focused throughout the school day is a tall order for any kid. But for kids with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), sensory processing disorder (SPD) or autism, it can be nearly impossible. That's why many kids (and their educators and parents) rely on fidget toys to help.
"Fidget toys are one way to support students who experience difficulty concentrating, actively participating, and/or managing anxiety and arousal across social and educational settings," says Laura Bonazinga Bouyea, M.S., CCC-SLP. "When used properly, they provide tactile, or touch input, which can increase alertness, support regulation, and reduce anxiety allowing a child to attend, adequately switch attention, focus, and reach a 'readiness to learn' or 'readiness to receive communication'," she adds.
And between virtual learning, and an overly stressful year that has deeply impacted our children's mental heath, tools like fidget toys have become more popular than ever. Repetitive, rhythmic fiddling with things like fidget spinners and putty can help transfer anxious energy from the brain to the fingers, delivering a sense of calm and relaxation. Additionally, they can help keep hands busy when they'd otherwise be biting their nails or desk tapping to beat the band.
What should you look for in a fidget toy? Says Bonazinga Bouyea, "The trick is to find a fidget that provides the 'just right' amount of input, supports an optimal state of arousal and alertness, isn't disruptive, is comfortable, and doesn't take too much cognitive energy." It's also important to consider the safety and durability, especially for the younger set. Avoid sharp edges and designs that could trap little fingers or fall apart and definitely stay away from magnets if there are small children in your household.
From clickable cubes to squishy balls and satisfying poppers, we've rounded up some of our favorite fidget toys that can help kids (and adults!) of all ages improve focus, reduce anxiety and offer a truly hands-on way to calm their brain and body.
With six sides of fun, Zuru Fidget Cube by Antsy Labs lets kiddos click, glide, flick and roll away their antsiness. The size is great for little hands, but note that some features are louder than others if they're using it in a school setting.
These accordion-esque tubes can be bent, stretched and connected to keep hands busy, with the added bonus of a satisfying popping sound.
Whether rolled, stretched, squeezed or squished, this putty delivers endless hours of satisfaction. In fact, we think the more you play with it, the better it gets. Pro tip: Go with a darker color so the grime doesn't show quite as much.
The toy that's synonymous with fidgets! This metal spinner silently keeps kids' hands busy, offering stress relief whether they're seated at their desk or enduring long (read: boring) car rides.
These clickable, snappable toys can be bent and locked in a variety of ways or even connected together for more impressive structures.
Squish toys that don't leave mess behind? Hallelujah. Crayola's colorful Globbles can be smooshed, stacked and stretched and stay sticky even after being washed.
An endless loop that twists, bends and tangles, the Tangle can also be popped apart and put back together. The variety of textures adds another layer of appeal for fiddling.
What's more cathartic than popping bubble wrap? The addicting rubber Pop It is like bubble wrap that never runs out. (Full disclosure, I've definitely snatched this one out of my kid's hand to get a turn.)
Similarly, the makers of the uber-engaging baby toy Dimpl, have created a pocket version that's ideal for keeping in their pocket when they need a little extra stimulation.
For kiddos who benefit from oral stimulation, especially those with ADHD, sensory processing disorder or autism, the Spaghetti Chewy Fidget is a top choice. The fun and flexy bundle of BPA-free silicone "noodles" can be braided, twisted or chewed on and includes a clip to keep them close at hand.
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