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Tool-turned-toy has some educators’ heads spinning – and kids told to leave ’em home

Fidget Spinners are the hottest toys in the country

Fidget Spinners are among the hottest toys in the country. The two- or three-pronged gadgets spin endlessly with the help of bearings and weights. They were originally designed to enhance concentration and stimulate learning.
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Fidget Spinners are among the hottest toys in the country. The two- or three-pronged gadgets spin endlessly with the help of bearings and weights. They were originally designed to enhance concentration and stimulate learning.

There’s a new entry on the list of things – cool as they are, and sometimes having benefits – that teachers and principals are telling students to leave at home.

In past years and decades, the must-haves among students have included yo-yos, pogs, trading cards from sports to Pokémon, clackers and, more recently, kendamas. Go back far enough and marbles and kazoos must have been no-no’s, too.

Right now, the hot property is the fidget spinner. They’re among little gadgets – others include cubes and rings – that research indicates are effective in improving concentration and focus in students with ADHD. They’re also marketed as stress relievers.

But from kids in grade school to high school, they’re just plain cool. And at some stores, they’re flying off the shelves. James Mitchell, a crew member at the 7-Eleven on McHenry Avenue at Morris, estimates the store has sold nearly 200 of them, at $7.99 a pop. Wednesday, the shop was sold out and awaiting a shipment of anywhere from 50 to 100 on Thursday.

Hands-On Educational Supply Store in McHenry Village had dozens of them Wednesday but has been selling them only since Monday, employees said. The store already had a waiting list of more than a dozen customers before the shipment of the $9.99 spinners came in.

Customers have included teachers, “parents of children who need it” and kids who simply find them fun, said Janice Jones. Fellow employee Marcia Taylor said, “A man whose girlfriend is a teacher came in today and bought two for her.”

The spinners at Hands-On are printed with designs including emojis and sports balls. Some carried by 7-Eleven glow in the dark, Mitchell said. And online, they’re sold in a variety of colors and shapes, including Batman’s symbol and Capt. America’s shield.

As the toys have gained mainstream popularity, YouTube videos of fidget spinner tricks have been racking up millions of page views, and 200,000 people have posted on Instagram using the “spinner” hashtag, according to an SF Gate article.

On Wednesday afternoon, 17 of the 20 top-selling toys on Amazon.com were spinners. Two others were fidget cubes.

In a Washington Post story, Michigan special-education teacher Melissa Ferry addressed the need for fidget gadgets: “If we see students are unfocused, getting up to use the washroom, sharpening their pencil frequently or causing a disturbance, they might need a sensory tool to help them focus. There are lots of adaptive learning tools; just like some kids need glasses, others need fidgets.”

But while some teachers – special-education or not – find the spinners valuable or at least not problematic, many teachers and principals have decided they’re more trouble than they’re worth.

Modesto City Schools has administrators on both sides of the fence, said district spokeswoman Becky Fortuna. Tuolumne Elementary’s principal, Heather Contreras, told Fortuna she’s not had any issues with the spinners – hadn’t even heard about them.

Meanwhile, Enslen Elementary began warning students Monday that the toys – like any other toys – may not be brought to school, Principal Heidi Nunes said. Wednesday, students were sent home with letters in their backpacks to that effect.

“We’ve had quite a few at school – they’ve become quite popular with students at all grade levels, first through sixth,” Nunes said. “They kind of came out of nowhere in the last three weeks.”

She said she appreciates that the initial purpose of the fidget gadgets is as a tool to help students focus, but they’ve become more of a distraction as children play with them during class.

Also, as with any toy, children may become upset if they are lost, stolen or broken at school, Nunes said. When the school announced Monday that the spinners had to stay home, there was initial disappointment among the children, she said. “But I think they understand, our intention is not to be mean or punitive. We’re consistent across the board with toys.”

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