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Fidget Spinners in the Classroom: Helpful or Distracting?

May 11, 2017

There's always a new classroom craze from Tamagotchis to silly bands, but the latest fad was originally intended to provide educational benefits. In case you haven't heard, fidget spinners are the gadgets most likely to be praised or confiscated in schools across the U.S. right now.

The original fidget spinner prototype was invented in Florida during the summer of 1993 by inventor Catherine Hettinger as a way to play with her daughter, suffering from muscle weakness linked to an autoimmune disorder. By 2005, small manufacturers began marketing similar spinners as “therapeutic aid for children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety, or autism, to help them focus and relieve stress.” In 2006, brothers Mark and Matthew McLachlan set up a Kickstarter hoping to raise $15,000 for a “Fidget Cube,” and ended up raking in over $6 million. Forbes began marketing fidget spinners to relieve stress for office executives, and by March, the hype train had left the station. To view the full history of the fidget spinner, check out the New York Times' timeline. Spoiler: Ms. Hettinger still hasn’t made any money off of this, though she plans to launch her own Kickstarter soon.

Sure, InStyle reported that Gwyneth Paltrow’s son may have gotten “a set of cool new fidget spinners” for his birthday, but celebrity hype doesn’t guarantee effective educational outcomes. Millions of these fidget spinners have already been sold and used in classrooms across the country, met with mixed reviews.

“Because it’s a distraction, we are no longer allowing them in school and if they do bring them to school, we will take them, hold on to them and then give them back at the end of the day," John McDonald, Assistant Principal at Delano Elementary School (MN) told CBS News. Similarly, New York educator Cristina Bolusi Zawacki wrote a blog article for Working Mother with her feelings on the subject, saying, “Let’s stop with the flowery euphemisms. It’s a toy and I hate it.”

On the other hand, some teachers are seeing real learning benefits. Gloria Chesbro, a sixth grade teacher, told NPR, “I have a lot of kids on the spectrum between ADHD and Asperger’s and ADD. And what I’m seeing is...with parameters set of course, a quieter classroom. I’m seeing kids that can concentrate better on class discussion, even writing. I’m seeing it - in almost every aspect of their class activities - being something that’s helping them concentrate.” Occupational therapists have also weighed in on its potential benefits. “It’s this idea that...if (students are) inattentive, they could be disruptive or not learning,” Sandra Schefkind, American Occupational Therapy Association Pediatric Program Manager told the Chicago Tribune.

According to CBS News, “a survey of the 200 largest schools in the U.S. found fidget spinners are banned in 32% percent of them.” However, these devices have had a therapeutic benefit on students with learning differences. “They could help anyone,” Associate Professor and Occupational Department Chair Kristie Koenig of NYU said. “An outright ban could be counterproductive to kids who need them.”

Have you let students use fidget spinners in the classroom? What were the results? If you haven’t experimented with fidget spinners for students, would you?


About The Author

Megan Hankins