Ottawa

Fidget spinner fad may point to deeper problem in the classroom

Fidget spinners are the hottest new gadget among school children, and while they're billed as useful tools to help kids focus, a University of Ottawa professor believes schools need to better accommodate students who need to move.

'We need to look at making the curriculum more engaging so that fewer kids need fidgeting toys'

Fidget spinners, the hand-held twirling gadgets, are taking over classrooms and cubicles. (The Associated Press)

Fidget spinners are the hottest new gadget among school children, and while they're billed as useful tools to help kids focus, a University of Ottawa professor believes schools need to better accommodate students who get fidgety and need to move.

The three-pronged, hand-held devices spin smoothly on a central bearing, sometimes creating an optical illusion, and they've become hugely popular.

"Part of it is it's satisfying to kind of occupy your hands with something," said Dr. Joel Westheimer, research chair and professor in the Faculty of Education at the University of Ottawa, on CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning.

Joel Westheimer teaches in the Faculty of Education at the University of Ottawa. (University of Ottawa)
"There is some research that shows that just like adults might knit during a meeting, or have some other kind of fidgeting tool, that kids also of course benefit from being able to do something with their hands while they're thinking, and it sometimes can help you pay attention."

With the fad growing across Canada, so is the debate over whether the toys help or hinder learning in the classroom. 

Westheimer believes fidget spinners and other devices like them are beneficial, to a degree.

"I think it can be helpful. And in particular there's research that shows kids with certain forms of ADHD can benefit from having something to do," he said.

"Some of us might tap our foot, and some of us might doodle. It's all on a spectrum of people who need to move around a little."

More physical activity in schools

But he urges parents and educators to look a little deeper into how students are engaged in certain activities in school to understand why fidgeting or attention issues may be a problem, and that "maybe we need to look at the curriculum and make it involve more active, physically engaging components to it."

Fidget spinners are becoming increasingly popular among school children. (Supplied)
Westheimer points to shortened recesses and limited physical education in some schools as reasons why kids may turn to gadgets like fidget spinners.

"Obviously we need to look at making the curriculum more engaging so that fewer kids need fidgeting toys," he said.

"We need to build into our day — as adults and kids alike — motion, engagement, and so forth. And instead of wondering if we can occupy kids who are bored and restless by giving them fidgeting toys, I think we would do well to think well how can we occupy kids who are bored and restless by making the school day more interesting and more active."