Focus vs. Fidget!

In most of my recent workshops I have described Learning Styles of children who come from diverse families, boys, those who are spirited, with Special Needs and all children who seem to benefit from having instructions communicated both verbally and visually.

This is not a new practice; when preparing for a transition or when trying to engage those who are really engrossed in their play or activity we often use gestures, facial expression, body language/pointing, and concrete objects. When describing the use of concrete objects I refer to them as Focus Toys/Tools. I know that in the past these have been described by others as fidget toys, but I challenge you to rethink that title for one that projects a positive connotation rather than a negative one.

I call it a Focus Toy because thats what I want them to do and I want them to know why they are using it; if I give you this to hold while we sit at group/planning time it will help you stay on topic and give your hands something to do. This helps you focus on what we are doing.


Will you hold the book while I read? or Will you turn the pages? or here is a puppet for the story


Please carry this cup for me while we go to the snack/kitchen area

If we call it a fidget toy it will remind them that they have a problem fidgeting/paying attention. I would rather use the positive approach and give children strategies or tools for attending and focusing, than letting them know they have a problem. If you think they are too young to understand the concept don’t call it anything; just say here you go, we’re going to read this story, and will you hold this for me?

Also remember that children need to move. We need to increase their physical activity to develop core muscles and build vestibular skills. Boys particularly need movement to keep the brain engaged (Gurian et al) so even small movement can keep them alert.

I challenge you to be creative in your search for Focus Toys or Tools. You don’t have to spend money; you probably already have something or can make something that works. You can also choose a favorite toy/object that is unrelated but still helps the child attend.

I have been challenged by parents and teachers with the risk that the child will just play with the object. In my experience, it may look like they are playing, but usually they are listening at the same time. I always challenge adults to think of their own strategies for paying attention; twirling their hair, biting their nails, tapping a pencil, shaking their foot, etc.

Try it, not just once, but over a month or a few weeks. Of course, when you introduce something new it can be a distraction, but as children realize that this is intended to help them, and that they can choose to hold something in an effort to pay attention, this will seem better. Other children will also be interested in holding something. I have class sets of rubber snakes, dinosaurs, finger puppets, die press shapes, etc. of objects that might relate to our topic of discussion. Consider using natural objects such as smooth rocks, pieces of driftwood, etc. BUT. SAFETY/ALLERGY CHECK!!

My group looked forward to seeing what I brought to the group and most of the time they were able to stay on task and sometimes think of new ideas because they had something in their hands to keep them FOCUSED!!

Check out some examples I have used: