For kids who need to settle and focus, the answer may be a fidget or what are also know as “focus tools”. Many teachers use “fidgets” (small objects that keep the hands or body busy) to help with self-regulation and boost focus and attention. Research shows that allowing students to fidget can increase their ability to concentrate. Contrary to what people might think, additional sensory motor input helps kids to focus on the task at hand and can reduce restless classroom behavior.
The down side is that fidgets can be distracting. Teachers who have tried them will know what I’m talking about: squeeze balls bouncing or flying across the table, a rubber object flung around or snapped too hard.
For best results, before introducing a fidget, teach students how to use them and provide rules. Call these items “focus tools,” explain the reasoning for using them, and ask the student if they’d like to try one out. This can help with buy-in. Tell students that if the tool becomes a toy or something that distracts them or others, it defeats the purpose and will have to be put away. Offer some examples and show our student how a fidget should and shouldn’t be used.
Here are some fidgets that have proven helpful for our students and rarely get used as toys:
- Velcro taped under the desk for kids to rub their fingers on
- Teaching kids how to use “secret fidgets” by making circles with their tongue on the roof of their mouth or wiggling their toes inside their shoes
- Tracing a square on their leg with their finger while breathing in (one line) and out (another line): 4 square breathing
- Chair push-ups
- Chewing on the nozzle of a water bottle
- Chair leg bands: tie a yoga band or deflated bike wheel inner tube around the legs of the chair for the student to put their feet on
- Lessons including movement, music, or academic breaks for the entire class—-we all need this type of input throughout our day!
Focus tools can be helpful for alerting or calming and might need to be rotated to stay effective. Encourage the student to let you know how well they think the tool is working. The overall goal, which the student or others in the class can help to evaluate, is to keep restless hands, feet, and bodies busy, but calm, so the brain can focus and learn.