By Andrew Hawk
Restlessness in the classroom is a challenge for both students and teachers. This is especially true on wintry or rainy days when outdoor recess and activities are not viable options. Students’ attention can quickly wane, leaving them daydreaming at best and engaging in any number of misbehaviors at worst.
The truth is, it is a waste of time to try to teach students who have zoned out. Save yourself the trouble of having to reteach any portion of a lesson by offering your students brain breaks. Strategically scheduling two-minute brain breaks into your lessons can effectively raise student engagement. Offering students fidget toys to enjoy during these short breaks is a great way to let them unwind. In addition, many students with attention challenges can benefit from using fidget toys throughout the day. I have not yet met a colleague who wanted to spend the money to buy enough fidget toys for an entire class. So why not buy some materials and create homemade ones?
In general, fidget toys should be simple. They should offer some sort of repetitive motion or tactile experience. Naturally, students should enjoy playing with them. It is best to have a variety of fidget toys students can choose from that fit their tastes. Here are some ideas you might try if you decide to make your own fidget toys.
Students were making fidget toys out of this versatile art supply long before the term “fidget toy” was even invented. Playing with a pipe cleaner can be both tactile and repetitive. I enjoy bending one into a figure eight and spinning it with my two index fingers. Brainstorm some ideas that will work well with your class.
These can be used in several ways. Get the kind with adhesive on the back. If you have a few extremely fidgety kids, stick a strip under students’ desks so they can run their fingers over the rough or soft material. This tactile experience is often calming to students who need a lot of movement or sensory input. During a brain break, students can put the strips together and pull them apart.
These can be easily made at home by pouring flour into a balloon through a funnel. This type of toy has gained popularity because there are now many squishy toys available that resemble foods and video game characters.
The thing about using rubber bands as fidget toys is that you have to clearly define your expectations. Otherwise students will often flip and snap the bands. Rubber bands can be used for a number of finger exercises. For example, students can place their fingertips together and put a rubber band around them. They then move their fingertips apart and see how long they can maintain the hold. More rubber bands can be added for extra resistance. Rubber bands can also be paired with a number of other items, such as paperclips, to make stretchy fidget toys.
Nuts and Bolts
Place a container of nuts, bolts, and washers in a variety of sizes somewhere easily accessible to students. Students enjoy putting these together and taking them apart. You can have some sets already put together for students to grab and go, or let them make their own.
I like to find round magnets with holes in the middle and put them on a bolt. (I prefer to buy them predrilled because magnets usually crack if you try to drill a hole yourself.) I put two magnets on a bolt and position them to repel each other. I then add another bolt to keep them in place. Students have fun pushing the magnets together and then releasing them. A magnet is another item that could be used in many ways.
Stop booing and hissing! Homemade slime is not my favorite thing either, but students of all ages love it, so it can be an effective fidget toy. Find some recipes here.
Duct Tape Creations
Duct tape now comes in so many flashy colors and patterns. I have seen teachers do projects where students make wallets and flowers out of duct tape. So why not make fidget toys too? For example, make a narrow tube out of duct tape. You have to fold the tape so that all the adhesive is covered. Place a marble inside the tube and use hot glue to seal the ends. Students will enjoy squeezing the marble back and forth. Be sure to make the tube narrow enough that there is some resistance and the marble does not simply roll around.
I have not tried this, but I think it would be fun. Give students a variety of materials and let them invent their own fidget toys. When they are finished, let them demonstrate their creations in front of your class—or in front of other classes. Have students vote on which fidget is the best!
Andrew Hawk has worked in public education for 16 years, starting as a teaching assistant in a special education classroom. He has taught first, second, and fifth grades as a classroom teacher, and for the past five years, has worked as a resource room teacher, providing services for fourth and fifth graders. Working as a special education teacher has given him the opportunity to work with a variety of age groups and exceptionalities. Andrew earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education at Indiana University East in Richmond, Indiana. In 2011, he earned his master’s degree in special education from Western Governor’s University, and in 2016, he completed a second master’s degree in educational leadership, also from WGU. When Andrew is not preparing for school, he enjoys spending time with his wife and daughter.
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