Kids move, and that’s a good thing. Running, jumping, stretching, twirling, somersaulting, and cartwheeling are natural inclinations of the human body.
Sitting still is another matter. We all need rest, even active kids, but sitting for several hours a day isn’t good for anyone. While schools try and figure out what the heck to do about research proving that piece of common sense, homeschoolers are free to let their kids move as much as they need to.
Enter fidget spinners. They’re hot, they’re everywhere, they’re the latest craze for kids, and they’re driving adults crazy. Why? They’re addictive, some say. They’re annoying, distracting, and disruptive.
Might they also be helpful? Research has shown that movement can help kids with ADHD concentrate. Label or no label, I’ve experienced for myself that our societal perception of what paying attention looks like is little more than a myth.
In leading book groups, writing clubs, and other activities with homeschoolers, I’ve learned that kids don’t always sit still. At first this bothered me because I interpreted it as a lack of focus on the activity at hand, the activity I was facilitating. Being in the fortunate position of not having to grade, evaluate, or otherwise tangibly verify any particular outcome, I tried to stay open to what might be happening for the kids. Thus I learned that a person who is fidgeting about may simultaneously be paying rapt attention.
Of course it is true that sometimes fidgeting signals boredom, as Kerry McDonald eloquently pointed out in a recent piece on The Fidget Toy Craze. Let’s not forget that sitting still can just as easily signal boredom. Daydreaming, i.e. tuning out, was my preferred method of escaping tedium when I was in school.
I can’t imagine what my experience working with kids would have been like if I’d had the responsibility of covering a specific amount of material and using flawed tools like tests to evaluate the level that each child absorbed it. Could I have taken the time to sit with the annoyance and pressure I felt in the presence of fidgeting? I never oversaw a group of more than a dozen or so kids. Twenty or thirty in the same room, and an obligation to pursue mandated standards with rigidly prescribed materials? The word daunting comes to mind, and even that seems to understate the task.
In addition to no grades and retaining the freedom to choose and modify materials based on the interests and needs of all involved, I had another advantage. If fidgeting became “disruptive,” this was generally a sign that the kid wasn’t interested in being part of what we were doing. In such cases, kids were free to leave and pursue some other learning trajectory that suited them better. In short, because of homeschooling, I and my kids benefited from powerful assets that allowed each of us, on our own terms, to learn, enjoy, and find meaning in what we were doing.
Back to the fuss over fidget spinners. The fad will pass, as all fads do. In the meantime, if fidget spinners contribute to helping us get over the tyranny of sitting still, or serve as clues for genuine boredom and frustration, they’ll have done some good.