Stop touching things! The role of fidget toys - OTFC
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Stop touching things! The role of fidget toys

Stop touching things! The role of fidget toys

Parents have you seen your child waiting in a room, sitting at a dinner table or riding in the back of the car touching things, grabbing something or just wanting things in their hands? Teachers, have you had a child reach out and grab things, pick up small items and play with them, seek out other children’s laces?

 

You may have had these experiences and wondered why are they doing this? Why must they have something in their hands?! You may be familiar with some of the concepts and terms of sensory integration, such as sensory processing, modulation and regulation. If not, check out our previous blog on Sensory Integration basics, to better understand what we are talking about.

In many of the above situations, children are ‘seeking’ extra sensory input they may otherwise not be receiving from their environment. Some refer to this as a ‘high threshold’ to neurological input, and as such, the more input they get, the more alert an organised their minds can be. The concept of fidget toys is based on this, where children are seeking things to touch and feel, to provide the ‘just right’ amount of sensory input, to calm their nervous system. Fidget toys are often used to provide sensory input in a less distracting way. They can help improve concentration and attention to tasks by allowing the brain to filter out the extra sensory information (e.g. listening to a lesson in the classroom, paying attention to a book during circle time). By having a fidget toy, a child may be able to better ‘filter out’ excess sensory information in their surroundings and their own body, which is causing distraction, and encouraging this sensory information to be focused on a toy in the hands.

Through targeting the tactile system, the hands can be very good regulators for attention and modulation in an environment. The homunculus (pictured below) is a visual representation of the anatomical divisions of the primary motor cortex (part of the brain responsible for processing and integrating motor information) and the primary somatosensory cortex (part of the brain responsible for the processing and integrating tactile – touch – information). This is most important when referring to fidget toys and tactile information. 

Sensory_Homunculus

If we look at the body’s homunculus, we can see that a large section of the picture contains the hands (including all the fingers and the thumb). You may also see that the mouth has a large representation. This again shows how effective the mouth can be in supporting regulation, which has already been noted in a previous OTFC post Chewing Through the Facts. From a Sensory perspective, given how dominant the hand representation is to the body, it make sense that the hands, with lots of neurological and sensory input, can be effective regulators of the body’s nervous system.

 

What makes a good fidget toy?

It is important they are relatively cheap (or more expensive ones – durable), safe, small enough, particularly for the classroom: not noisy or produce noise to distract, and able to be used without distracting others too much.

It is also important to factor in some of these questions when choosing a toy:

– What are their foundation skills like (do they have the hand strength or motor skills for a specific toy?)

– Do they have sensory preferences? Are there textures, shapes, sensations they will avoid? (remember to try and provide toys that will be sought and will provide a calming influence)

– What times during the day do they seem most fidgety? And when would they most benefit from having a toy?

– How long will they use the toy for? What are the rules around it?

So, we know WHY and HOW fidget toys can be effective, so let’s mention a few. Some can be bought specifically as fidget toys, and some are everyday things that can be extremely effective in maintaining regulation at home and in a classroom. Many of these can be combined, stored in a ‘fidget box’ and given to a child to chose from, each time they feel the need for a fidget toy.

Tangles-300x300

 

 

 

 

 

 

– Tangles

Koosh-Ball

 

 

 

 

 

– Koosh Balls

– Putty

– Blu tack

– Paperclips

– Stress Balls

– Corks

– Velcro under a desk

– A hand sized smooth Stone

 

Hoberman

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

– Homberman Sphere

These are just some examples, but there are many more! If you have any effective fidget toys, please feel free to comment, and we may post it on the blog!

For those wanting fidget toys and some places to access and further ideas, the below links have a great range of specific fidget toys:

Special Needs toys

Sensory Tools

Refreshing Memories 

Windmill Toys (252 The Parade, Norwood)

In addition, your local $2 shop or bargain shop will often sell some great fidget toys at a low cost!

Happy fidgeting!

20 Comments
  • Stacy
    Posted at 14:53h, 24 March Reply

    We call them Fidget Tools, helps convey their purpose!

    • otfc
      Posted at 15:19h, 25 March Reply

      Absolutely. The term ‘fidget tool’ can certainly convey the concept well.

  • Ann
    Posted at 05:49h, 25 March Reply

    Ok my 5 year old has almost constant touching of his genitals, and his nose. (Pinching and sucking in ) both started this school year. (Kindergarten) please help…

    • otfc
      Posted at 02:32h, 30 March Reply

      Hi, this sounds like there are potentially a number of sensory components at play here. If you are able to provide some more information, I would be happy to discuss further. Feel free to email me: michael@otfc.com.au

  • Nicola Maybury
    Posted at 13:31h, 25 March Reply

    Hi, I’m the creator of Relax Pax which are sensory beanbags & perfect for calming children. Combining lavender & beans they are great to fiddle with while giving off a calming lavender scent. They’d be perfect for use in school because they are silent.

    • otfc
      Posted at 15:23h, 25 March Reply

      Thanks for the comment and idea. Something like that could be very useful at home and target the olfactory system too! It may be useful to have tactile, olfactory and even visual preferences in a fidget, especially if it’s main purpose is a ‘calming’ tool.

  • Penny Melsom
    Posted at 18:19h, 26 March Reply

    Hi thanks for an excellent article. Will share with parents. Just to let you know we have lots of great fidget toy options at Skillbuilders. We also have a ‘Sensory Seekers Kit’ which sets up the sensory box you’re referring too.

    • otfc
      Posted at 02:28h, 30 March Reply

      Thank you. I will add you to conversations I have with parents about places to obtain fidget tools

  • Mary Pat Kochenash
    Posted at 00:45h, 27 March Reply

    We call them “brain tools” to avoid the negative connotation of “fidget” and also help teach the child they are using them to “fix” their brain so they can focus.

    • otfc
      Posted at 02:29h, 30 March Reply

      I like the interpretation. There are obviously a number of ways to name fidget/brain toy/tools!

  • Online Toy Store In Australia
    Posted at 12:19h, 08 June Reply

    Very interesting. Thanks for sharing this happy post .

  • Online Toy Store In Australia
    Posted at 08:55h, 15 June Reply

    Great information and very useful blog .

  • Siu Lin
    Posted at 06:05h, 11 August Reply

    Dear Sir/Mdm,
    My 13 years old son recently very naughty especially his hands like to touch here and there, sudden claps, knock here and there very noise and he is a boy very dangerous if the person claims him as a molester. please help. He also like to touch my hair, my shoulder and his classmate too.
    Please help us, thank you in advance.

    • otfc
      Posted at 06:51h, 18 August Reply

      It sounds like your son is seeking lots of ‘tactile’ stimulation. It may be worthwhile having an Occupational Therapy assessment from an Occupational Therapist in your area. If this is not possible, seek the advice from a Paediatrician and explain he is ‘seeking lots of things through touch’ and describe the sorts of example you have mentioned.

      From the examples you have provided, your son may benefit from a fidget toy or a few fidget toys. He can hold these while he is in class, so as not to disturb or touch others around him. The below link can take you to some examples of hand fidgets that can be used.

      http://therapyfocus.org.au/assets/resources/45-ideas-for-classroom-friendly-fidget-toys.pdf

  • Jeniffer Digioia
    Posted at 16:14h, 13 October Reply

    I read a lot of blogs posts in my business and yours has been better than most that I have read , Thanks for the information it refreshing to learn something new.

  • Jo Baybut
    Posted at 12:22h, 13 January Reply

    HI,

    I have an 8 year old daughter who finds it really difficult to listen & take in information, she can’t sit still during story time & has quite a low concentration span. She’s definitely one of life’s dreamers (must be quite a nice place to be!!) but it affects her school work as she falls behind or doesn’t take in what she needs to do. She’s isn’t autistic, or on the Aspberger’s spectrum, doesn’t have ADHD etc. Would these toys help her? Thank you,

    Kind regards, Jo

    • Jo Baybut
      Posted at 12:32h, 13 January Reply

      Sorry, I spelt Asperger wrong!!

      • Jo Baybut
        Posted at 12:33h, 13 January Reply

        Oh my word, autocorrect spelt it wrong again!! Asberger, Asberger, Asberger!!

    • otfc
      Posted at 10:08h, 08 February Reply

      Hi Jo. An interesting question. This is often something raised by parents and teachers within the clinic. It is important to know that all children have different sensory needs, and that understanding those needs can support a child to function at their best. It sounds like your daughter does have some sensory needs. Fidget toys can be effective, particularly for mat times and table tasks, however they are a piece of the pie when it comes to regulation and modulation of sensory needs. Activities like structured movement breaks in class, a home ‘Sensory Diet’ (i.e. a movement based ‘diet’ to provide required sensory needs) can also provide the sensory input required by your daughter. Have a read of our blog on ‘Modulation’, to get a better insight into what may be happening for your daughter. http://www.occupationaltherapychildren.com.au/blog/modulation-we-all-do-it-but-how-well/

  • aimee barrett
    Posted at 00:26h, 20 April Reply

    thanks for telling me all of the stuff figit toys do and how they help poeple to consintrat.

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