No, you don’t need a fidget spinner break

fidget spinner

Having not worked in a school since July 2016, I missed the start of fidget spinners craze but, after entering the world of supply teaching, I’m pretty much caught up. Fidget spinners are toys that have been cleverly marketed as having stress-relieving benefits. I don’t know whether that’s true or not – it appears that the evidence is inconclusive.  What I do know is that any stress-relieving benefits are negated by the amount of stress fidget spinners cause for the other pupils and teachers trying to work.

There seems to be three different attitudes to fidget spinners in schools. Most schools have taken the sensible approach and have banned them outright. (I feel as though I should be wearing a hairnet and shaking my stick at children running down the street as I write this.) Some schools have tried to embrace the trend and actually give children fidget spinner breaks halfway through lessons. Others have tried to incorporate them into the curriculum and planned maths and DT schemes of work around this new fad.

And some schools have banned spinners only to have replaced them with equally disruptive equivalents. “Feel free to confiscate any fidget spinners if you see them – they’re not supposed to have them in school,” one teacher said, as she showed me to the classroom. She then added, “We’ve given them fidget cubes and stress balls so they shouldn’t need the spinners.” The stress balls ended up being chucked around the classroom or rolled down the side of the hall in assembly and one of the fidget cubes was pelted into the face of an unsuspecting child, which I doubt did much to relieve his stress.

But it doesn’t stop there. Other behaviour management strategies I’ve seen include: Tangle fidget toys, Pause and Walk and Brain Breaks: for every X minutes of work a pupil completes they get a twenty minute break to go and play football, play on the computer etc… I only learnt about this one because a child said to me, “Miss – you forgot that me, Joe and Grace have Brain Breaks. We didn’t have them this morning and we’re meant to have them every twenty minutes.” My response was, “No – you forgot your Brain Breaks this morning which might mean you don’t actually need to take them – look how much work you all did instead!” Whatever the strategy, the message to those children is the same, “Don’t worry you’re not expected to behave the same way as everybody else. If you’re finding the lesson difficult or boring you can just play with this instead.”

Vising so many different schools and witnessing these strategies has left me with this nagging question: when did it become unacceptable to expect children to work for an hour? Most children don’t need a fidget spinner to get through a maths lesson. They need to sit down, listen, think and have a go. It won’t always be easy or fun because learning isn’t always easy and fun but we’re not doing these children any favours by lowering our expectations of them.

I believe we should do our best to engage our pupils and make learning accessible but I don’t believe that pupils have a right to never find something difficult or boring. Learning new things IS difficult and sometimes it is boring: it involves endless practice and repetition and, just when you think you’ve mastered it, there’ll be something new you have to learn. But if the lesson is well planned, if the task has been modelled and scaffolded and there are a number of additional resources available to support the children who need it then there’s no reason why 95% of children can’t get through a lesson without a break.

There has been some research into whether these sorts of toys help children with ASD and ADHD and if that’s the case then fantastic – I’m not suggesting for a second we take away a useful tool for helping those pupils but in the last few weeks I’ve taught classes where EVERY child has a fidget toy. It’s all got a bit emperors’ new clothes. Someone appears to have gone round and said to schools, “I can fix your pupils’ poor behaviour and lack of concentration, all you need is to buy this shiny, gadget.” I can’t blame schools for wanting to give it a go because ultimately all of this is  symptomatic of a much wider problem: behaviour is getting worse and schools are struggling to manage it. 

Behaviour management shouldn’t just rely on individual teachers. This happens a lot in primary schools – behaviour management seems to centre on the teacher’s relationship with their class. And yes, it is worth knowing that Jonathan responds better to humour and the Amy is bolshy until she trusts you and after that she’ll do anything for you.  And it helps to know when your class are producing their best work and when they’re trying to get away with handing in any old crap. This is fine when a class just has one class teacher but ultimately children need to learn to behave for any adult that teaches them which is a why behaviour management should be a whole school concern: centralised sanctions and rewards and a simple, whole school behaviour management policy. Teachers are being left to make it up as they go along which is how we’ve got to brain breaks and individual behaviour plans for over half the class.

Maybe I’m wrong and turning 30 has turned me prematurely into a grumpy old woman with no sense of fun. But we do pupils no favours by making endless excuses for them and offering them alternatives to participating in lessons.

10 thoughts on “No, you don’t need a fidget spinner break

  1. I have a bunch of students who got fidget spinners and told me they need them because an adult told them it would help them concentrate. Like, naw, I’ve been teaching these kids for 2 years and I know they’re perfectly capable of paying attention and doing work for 45 minutes (we only have 45 minutes for lessons then a 10 minute break).

    Liked by 2 people

  2. As a teacher && a parent to a six year old who just nagged me into buying him one (or rather tricked me into because when he initially asked me for one I can swear I heard frisbee spinner and I promised him one before realizing what it actually is) regardless, I totally agree with you. I feel like there is too many alternatives and excuses for children who are totally capable of having a “normal” attention span!!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Tamagotchis ~ I rest my case. This is nothing to do with ‘stress’ and everything to do with marketing. Ban them. Throw them in the bin. Life is full of ‘stress’ and the sooner they learn to cope and stop thinking everything revolves around them, the better. I speak as a retired teacher who now tutors A level: I’m currently experiencing the ”I am too stressed to revise’ syndrome….which is what it ultimately lead to. Upon their grades depends their university places.Time to ‘grow up’.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I blame the marketing people – it’s a hugely clever marketing ploy, like tamagochis and rubik’s cubes and all the other gizmos that catch on with kids. The children pass on twaddle they’ve heard about them improving concentration, hand-eye co-ordination … stuff they’ve picked up on social media, and how are teachers meant to combat that? So the teachers become the bad guys … again.

    But we live in a world where making a profit is valued more highly than teaching children. Unless we can change that, I foresee one craze following another and teachers forever playing catch-up.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I remember when I came to my son’s class in 2nd grade he showed me his vacation sign. What is it ? He said at any time he could raise this sign and take a vacation and go play. I thought that was the stupidest thing I had ever heard. Oh course he wants a action every 10 minutes.-Duh!

    My son it now 18 and has a fidget cube. It fits in your hand -no whirling objects. He can still get he soothing sensation by rolling a ball on one side. Or click a button on another. So much better ! It also me $2.00 on ebay.


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