It’s a cross between a ninja throwing star and a spinning top. It’s a useful way to enhance focus, and it’s a huge distraction that has no place in the classroom. What the heck is it about this piece of plastic that’s so darn polarizing?
What is a fidget spinner?
A fidget spinner has three prongs (usually), is small enough to fit in your palm, and spins around a weighted disc at the center. It’s made of metal or plastic and can come in all sorts of exciting and playful colors. You can nab them for a few bucks at joints like 7-Eleven or gas stations, or find more pricey ones with specialty features (or rush shipping) online.
As for what it does: aside from spinning, not much.
Why are fidget spinners suddenly a big deal?
Seriously, no one knows. They’ve existed in some form or another for years but suddenly blasted off in popularity a month or so back. In all likelihood, one kid had a fidget spinner to boost concentration, and her or his classmates figured out it was a new opportunity to do tricks and not pay attention in class.
But no one knows the exact origin of the fidget spinner craze. All that is known is that sometime this spring, kids started cajoling, pestering, pleading, and coercing parents into buying them the toys.
The result: toy businesses, gas stations, Amazon, and other companies that sell fidget spinners have found themselves selling out. A toy store owner in Michigan said he sells up to 150 a day, and an online company that sells baubles for under $5 limits spinners to two per customer. For more proof of their popularity, 49 out of the fifty best-selling toys on Amazon are fidget spinners or similar devices.
The fidget spinner craze is just that crazy.
What’s good about fidget spinners?
Fidget spinners are marketed as useful tools for kids with autism and ADHD. In theory, they’re also great for stress.
Though most don’t come in overhead-fan size, the potential for play and even developing tricks appears to be addictive. According to experts, the talented trickster can balance it on a palm, foot, or nose; stack several to get a spinning tower; or play catch with it (apparently, it’s hard to catch something that comes spinning at you through the air). With kids’ playtime habits increasingly occupied by screens and apps, a toy they can do actual things with is giving some parents a sigh of relief.
On a more serious level, they do appear to have actual benefits for children who struggle with concentration. Carol Povey, director of the Centre for Autism at the U.K.’s National Autistic Society, spoke to the potential value of fidget spinners for children who have difficulty focusing in class:
Having something that spins or twists can help to ground and balance [autistic children]….anecdotally we believe they do work.
They work, that is, for children with diagnosed difficulties staying focused. For kids who will do anything for a distraction, it’s another matter.
What’s bad about fidget spinners?
They’re small and you can do tricks with them. Where’s the controversy in that?
Apparently, in the fact that they’re small and you can do tricks with them. This makes for a tough time for teachers, many of whom have found the noise of spinning to be an increasingly regular soundtrack in recent months, and have to cope with wannabe trick performers busting out the moves every time Teacher’s back is turned.
Dr. Mark Rapport, director of the Children’s Learning Clinic at the University of Central Florida, had a more negative take on the fidget spinner:
Using a spinner-like gadget is more likely to serve as a distraction than a benefit for individuals with ADHD.
At the end of the day, whether the fidget spinner is a boon or a curse depends on the individual using it. But when dozens of individuals are using it during class time, the verdict seems to be that it’s a bit closer to the curse category.
Besides, you have to suspect that when tech folks develop an app to sub in for something you could use like a good old-fashioned toy, it’s probably downhill from there.
Are fidget spinners just for kids?
No. But be careful. They can be addictive.
Adults might be better than children at resisting the temptation to play with spinners instead of paying attention. Still, the motivation for grown-ups isn’t just the distraction; it’s the stress release. Richard Gottlieb, a consultant at Global Toy Experts, says:
People don’t smoke as much, so they have to figure out a way to work out their stress.
Whether an anti-smoking aid, a concentration booster, a debilitating distraction, or a fun new toy to do tricks with, the fidget spinner is here to stay. At least, until the next new fad comes along.