Just Twiddling my Thumbs…or maybe something else!

When I came back to university after nearly a decade of not being in school one of the things that I was worried about was whether or not I would have trouble paying attention in class, writing notes, and actually remembering what was talked about later. While I would consider myself a good student, I know that I can often be distracted quite easily, but had never really thought why. Though I would not consider myself to be “hyperactive,” or constantly feeling the need to move, I do find myself a tad restless or even tired when forced to sit for an extended period of time. At the movie theatre, for example, where you’re confined to a single chair, I often struggle to sit still and am constantly trying to alter my position in order to stay focused on the film. At home I have the luxury of being able to get up and move around a bit, but this is not really an option when at the movies. Similar things started to happen in university during long (and boring) lectures. I would shift in my seat, twirl my hair, twiddle my fingers or my ring, or perhaps sneak a peak at my email or jot some notes down for other class work. I would do what I needed to to make it through the class and stay in that “just right zone” for learning. To help me stay in my best thinking and learning “zone”, I generally tried, and continue to try to ensure the following:

  • I make sure that I have lots of water, or maybe tea on a cold day
  • I have the “right layers” for the classrooms that I know I’ll be in (as some are quite chilly and others are warm!) so that I can stay at a comfortable temperature
  • I sit near the front of the room so that other people don’t distract me
  • I try and have some space around my seat so that I can shift my position
  • Making sure to have my glasses in my bag to put on if my eyes are feeling tired (as I don’t need to wear them all the time)
  • I bring headphones so that I can play music if we have any free reading time in class or during study periods between classes

Up until a few weeks ago I thought that these were really the only things that I could do, as I had never really been introduced to the concept of fidgets! I have to say though, that fidgets are AMAZING! I had seen a few students in a class that I was with for a few weeks last year with different little toys tucked in their desk like stress balls, or fuzzy toys, but I never saw them use them or remembered to ask the teacher why some students had them and others didn’t. I realize now that they were their own little fidgets that they could easily access when and if they needed something to play with. In doing a little more hunting and researching about fidgets I often found the concept associated with ADD, ADHD, or Autism, however I think that I can say from my own experience trying fidgets out in our EPSY 217 class that fidgets can be for anyone!

Here is one article though, that I think has some good descriptions of what makes a good fidget. This teacher’s blog post also had some good tips on making a fidget box for individual students or as a group box. This school counsellor’s blog also talks about another type of fidget, called a worry stone, that you can make and have available for students.

Photo Credit: adinsen via Compfight cc

For me, the twisty-type fidgets are what I like best. I get just a good, calming feeling of wrapping something around my fingers or my wrist, changing its shape or pattern, or making it move. I think this is probably why I find twirling or braiding my hair to be an alternative when I don’t have a fidget! I have enjoyed the bendy, twisty fidgets in our class so much that I actually found an online store out of Edmonton, Tools for Kids Inc., that has a whole selection of hand fidgets, and I have ordered a couple to keep in my backpack to use in my other classes or scenarios where I need to stay in that “zone”.

Photo Credit: pengphant via Compfight cc

The types of things that I tried out that didn’t work for me were all of the balls, or squishy, or fuzzy toys. I found the textures too distracting, and I did not like the experience of squeezing something. I think that I like the idea of twisting something more as it is more of a dexterous and manipulative motion rather than a motion that requires force and pressure. I think I would find myself bouncing a ball more than I would squishing it to get that more manipulative motion from it.

Doing this exercise of comparing what I like and don’t like for fidgets was kind of eye-opening and caused me to examine why I might enjoy different fidgets than my friends and family do. My husband, for example, prefers the squishy stress-balls, so it now makes sense why he continually brings home free ones that he has been given at his work, assuming that I will enjoy them like he does. One of my friends enjoys the fidgets that are a ball, but have sort of soft spokes that add another level of texture and something to “pick at.” Another likes to simply pick at pieces of paper, ripping off tiny pieces (this sounds like a messy fidget!) and crumpling them.

To find out just how many different types of fidgets people like to use, I made a little online poll using PollEverywhere and sent it out to my Twitter followers and to my friends on Facebook. Within a short period of time (after I figured out how to make the settings the way I wanted them!) I had a number of responses that really showed a diversity of the types of fidgets people like to use!

Fidget Poll

Fidget Poll

One idea on there that I think would be just great for my own personal use, that I hadn’t thought of before, is a pipe cleaner! I just might have to stick a few of these in my backpack and my purse for times when I don’t have anything else. I imagine they wouldn’t last too long though, and could get quite grimy and germ-filled compared to the cleanability of things like the tangle or a stress ball. In a pinch though, a pipe cleaner would be just perfect!

So, to my readers, I ask you: what is your favourite fidget to use? What do you provide for your students to use? Do you limit when they can use certain kinds of fidgets in the classroom?


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