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Fidget Toys and Their Benefits, Explained

What IS it about fidget toys? We know that slime, putty, foam, pop-its, and other fidget toys help kids feel more focused and calm — but why? Pull up a chair, parents — we're diving into the science of fidget toys.

Heather Marcoux

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Kids have more energy flowing through their bodies and brains than the world gives them credit for. The kinetic energy of a kindergartener rivals any power grid — and like the out-of-control end of a live wire, kids need a place to put their extra sparks!

When the sparks have a place to go and your body and brain are in sync, it’s easier to match the energy of the room you’re in, or focus your attention.

That’s why fidget toys have become a common sight in twenty-first century classrooms. But it’s hardly the chaos our teachers envisioned back in the day when the first rule of school was "put your toys away!"

Now, more and more educators recognize that having a fidget toy to release energy can help kids feel more comfortable and calm in the classroom. 

But the magic of fidgets extends beyond the classroom, too. Kids can take these packable playthings anywhere they need help regulating their body’s energy!

Here are 6 ways fidgets can help kids focus:

1. Toys Can Be Classroom Tools

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Fidget toys are super fun, but in some classroom settings they’re not referred to as toys at all — instead, they're considered tools. Because as it turns out, specific types of fidgets serve a very real purpose: helping kids connect with learning. (And yes, teachers do draw the line between a useful fidget and some distracting thing that came in a Happy Meal). 

Modern educators recognize that every kid needs a different level of stimulation to create the optimal situation for learning. Fidgets are often used by children with sensory processing differences, ADHD or autism. But any child (or adult!) can benefit from using the movement of their body to help their brain. 

Just as every kid is unique, so are the ways in which fidgets can help them. One kid might find that focusing on a fidget helps them block out overwhelming sensory input that distracts them from the task at hand, while another child might use a fidget to keep them from picking at their hands or hair when stressed. Research shows that for kids with ADHD, keeping them in motion also keep them engaged with the lesson. 

2. Toys Can Stretch Short Attention Spans

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It’s totally natural for little kids to have short attention spans, and while it sounds counterintuitive, having fidgets around during activities that require a lot of attention can help stretch a kid’s attention capabilities. 

The trick here is taking “brain breaks” to focus solely on playing with the fidget. Giving kids a moment to lean into fun makes them more likely to lean back into the activity when their attention is needed. 

3. Touch Is a Mindfulness Tool

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Fidgets work because they engage kids’ sense of touch, pulling their attention toward themselves when there are so many things competing for their focus. 

Not to get too technical here, but there’s a dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) practice called Mindfulness of Touch, which involves focusing on an object in your hands and taking note of the temperature, texture, shape. 

It’s been working great for adults in therapists' offices for years, and now kids are able to use the technique to practice a skill too many of us didn’t learn until adulthood. 

Practicing mindfulness through touch strengthens kids’ self-soothing skills and can reduce anxiety.

4. Fidgets Help Kids Pop Away Stress

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The last couple of years have been super stressful for kids, so it makes total sense that poppable toys took over during the pandemic! You don’t have to turn on TikTok to see kids doing the pop-it challenge, you can just look at any group of elementary schoolers during recess. 

These silicone fidgets are the Pogs of 2022, and are as satisfying to pop as bubble wrap (but way more sustainable). Some therapists say the repetitive motion and the texture of the silicone bubbles can have a calming effect on kids. 

5. Squishy Sensory Sensations Create Calm

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Sometimes you just need to give something a really good squeeze! 

Stress balls have been proven to have a calming effect on riled up sixth graders, and there are plenty of similarly squeezable options to help kids who need something to grip. 

Slimes, doughs, squishys, DIY sensory bags and even small stuffed animals can make for effective fidgets for kids who have that need to squeeze (and they help strengthen finger muscles needed for writing).

6. Fidgets Don’t Have to Be Distracting

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Fidget spinners brought fidget toys and tools into the mainstream, but they also brought a lot of frustration to parents and teachers who found the noisy toys overstimulating. 

While some people still find relief from the once ubiquitous spinners, the newest generation of fidgets are less likely to bother a teacher (or everyone else in the restaurant).

Science suggests that these toys may actually help kids focus, stay engaged, and concentrate with calm. So let your kiddos experiment with slime, putty, pop-its, spinners, or other types of sensory toys — you can even make your own fidgets using stuff you probably already have around the house!

Explore Fidget Toys at CAMP