When I first heard about fidget devices (which were different than the spinners that are the current craze), I considered getting one for my highly distractable child. In the end, I decided against it. Not because I don’t think having his hands occupied is be useful, but because I think that there’s a better option to address the need to fidget than a piece of plastic.
There’s been research that shows that doodling helps people pay attention. From my own experience, I’ve seen how a boy who has literally been running laps around the couch is able to narrate back every detail of a lengthy reading. (I was kinda ticked when I realized that when he most looked like he was paying attention, he was actually absorbing the least amount. But when he’s bouncing off the walls, it all sticks. That really messed with my orderly view of the world.)
I don’t think people are meant to sit still for any length of time — especially not small people, and that goes doubly for small boy people. Our bodies were made to move, and our minds are connected to that movement. So I totally get the impulse behind the fidget gadgets, but I’m not sure they do what they say they do. (See this psychologist who specializes in ADHD.)
I think there are better ways to tap into that need for movement — activities that can also nurture our creative instincts and even produce something useful: handicrafts*. My daughters love to knit and crochet, and that’s filled their fidget need and helps them stay focused. We haven’t yet hit upon one specific thing for the boys, but they’ve tried clay modeling, lanyard making, drawing, crocheting, whittling, and origami, among other things. Not all of these have been a morning time success since the idea is something that they can do “on automatic” to keep hands busy during morning time. Some of these require too much focus to be able to listen. So they’re great activities for other settings. In addition, one of my sons does woodburning and another does leatherworking, but those aren’t really “sit on the couch and listen to the story” activities.
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I know my situation as a homeschooler is not the same as kids in a school setting. I can — and have — let my kid run circles around the living room while I read. The noise of one or two children is not anything compared to the noise of a couple dozen, not to mention the mess. (And there are probably school policies against giving kids whittling knives.) And whether you homeschool or teach in a school setting, handicrafts require investing time and energy rather than dropping a bit of plastic in a kid’s hand. In fact, it requires valuing the practice of handicrafts enough to take time away from “more important subjects” in order to give proper instruction. If you lack the skill to teach those crafts (hi!), it requires the effort and often money to procure the instruction. In fact, while handicrafts work well to keep hands occupied, they’ll take more time than they save — at least initially.
Handicrafts and drawing and creating with Legos have benefits that a fidget spinner will never replace. The child is learning a useful skill and using his own hands to make something of real value. They learn from mistakes and pursue new challenges and discover that they can create, not just consume. And that’s a gift they’ll take with them long after that bit of plastic has fallen apart.
What do you think about fidget spinners? Do you have a handicraft or other activity you use to occupy your hands?
(*When I say handicraft, I’m using the term as Charlotte Mason used it, not the salt map and preassembled foam craft kit that may spring to mind. Ambleside Online has more on what Charlotte Mason taught about handicrafts and a list of suggestions. As an unskilled mom, I’ve found YouTube and sites like Craftsy very helpful for filling in for my ignorance.)