Just getting into the whole bottle-flipping craze? Well that’s done. The world is a completely different place and that is in no way an exaggeration. Bottle-flipping is dead, or at least being steadily eclipsed by the new fad that kids can’t get enough of: fidget spinners. It’s a toy like a top, but spun in the hand rather than on a surface. Local tech blogger and classroom teacher Kevin Andrews is with us this morning to talk about this new toy trend infiltrating the lives of kids and adults alike.
Fidget spinners are little gadgets, usually smaller than your palm, with two or three prongs that come out from the center with circles in them. There is a circular pad in the middle where you hold the device with your finger and thumb. Then you twirl it. The spinner rotates around a bearing at the center. The light weight of the device and the low friction of the bearing allows it to spin for a long time. The claim is that the momentum of the toy provides a pleasing sensory experience for everyone who is spinning it.
Toys similar to fidget spinners have been around for years, but over the last month or so the current incarnation has reached fever pitch. As with other cultural trends, like Flappy Bird and Pokémon Go, kids adopted the gadgets first. Since this winter, fidget spinners have invaded classrooms, causing teachers, including myself, to confiscate them because of their distraction to the student and class. They can be cheap or expensive but mostly they have become ubiquitous impulse purchases at mobile-phone shops and gas stations. And as we speak, fidget spinners dominate the Amazon’s bestsellers in toys and games. Mostly, they just spin them while they hold them but as the kids get more comfortable with the gadgets, they spin them on the ground and other surfaces.
Manufacturers claim that the gadgets aren’t just fun to play with, but also help people with ADHD, anxiety, autism and various other conditions. That said, as a classroom teacher I can honestly say it is more of a distraction than anything else. Based on my research, many clinical psychologist who have studied the benefits of movement on attention in people with ADHD came to the conclusion that there is really no scientific evidence to suggest that these toys offer legitimate treatment.
Not surprisingly, the agreement amongst most scientists is that any and all claims by the manufactures of these toys helping kids be more focused are probably overblown and more of a marketing ploy to boost sales. If anything, I would see it as a tool to help reduce smartphone addiction— basically a doodad to keep your fingers busy so people aren’t tempted to reach for their phone all the time.
There’s no doubt that toys that allow kids to fidget can benefit kids with sensory processing issues. Occupational therapists often use sensory toys like tactile discs, putties or clays to soothe kids with autism. Similarly, research has shown that movement can help kids with ADHD to focus.
That said, fidget spinners don’t require gross body movement, which is what appears to be responsible for increasing activity in the frontal and prefrontal brain areas that are responsible for sustaining their attention. Not only that, many of the spinners are also visually distracting, with flashing lights and so they have a tendency to pull a child’s attention away from the teacher.
I did hear that as well. I did a little digging and found out that a lead-poisoning-prevention advocate who is not affiliated with any university or research institution, home-tested 11 fidget spinners and found unusually high amounts of lead in several of the very cheap ones that came out of China. Even so, Rubin’s findings have not been replicated nor peer-reviewed; and Rubin only tested 11 spinner models and as you know there are many model brands flooding the market now.
Based on my experience, a bigger concern may be the risk of kids choking on some of the spinner’s small parts. Many of them now have cheap flashy electronic lights that come apart and it has been my experience as a classroom teacher that kids are very much motivated to take them apart, put the smaller electronic pieces in their mouth or throw the pieces at others. And so as a parent looking to buy them for your kids you really want to keep that in mind.