Rockford Middle, Elementary schools go fidget free

The sudden popularity of fidget spinners has caused many schools to ban them from classrooms, despite their advertised purpose as a concentration aid.

Fidget spinners, the latest national toy craze, will no longer be welcomed in the classrooms of Rockford Middle School–Center for Environmental Studies or Rockford Elementary Arts Magnet School.

The spinners, a small handheld gadget that continues to top Amazon best seller lists, is simple in nature. Hold the center point between two fingers (or one for the more savvy fidgeter), and spin the pinwheel-looking piece attached between. Like a top, the spinners sustain the motion for quite awhile, and makes a soft whirring noise.

Basic spinners can be picked up for a few dollars at a local drugstore, but prices get pretty steep for the higher-end Cadillac spinners online. These often have bearings and frame pieces sold individually, and can spin for minutes at a time.

Sellers of the spinners have claimed that the sensory properties of the spinners soothe persons affected with hyperactivity, anxiety, and autism disorders, improving focus. In theory, the near-silent action of the spinner creates little distractions to the user and the students surrounding him or her, providing an outlet for fidgeting without causing a ruckus. Teachers have found that this is not the case.

“It sounds like the classroom is taking flight,” said RMS-CES principal Amy Denneson. It was one thing for a handful of students to use a fidget toy in class, but with what Denneson remarks as “some pretty genius marketing” many students appeared to acquire them overnight.

Some students didn’t have them, most students did, and some had multiples. Students with the toy threw tricks, and those spinnerless quickly became spectators regardless of what was happening at the front of the classroom.

After hearing horror stories from teachers, both Denneson and REAMS principal Brenda Nyhus agreed that it was time to do something.

“It was Thursday and we sent out notifications to parents that we would be fidget free on Friday,” said Denneson. Any fidgets found from that point on would be put in an envelope, brought to the office, and await pickup from a parent. This included related toys like fidget cubes, palm-sized dice with touch activities like buttons, joysticks and switches on each face.

For those with disorders that truly benefit from fidget toys, both schools will allow an exception.

“We design our schools to meet these needs,” said Denneson. “All students absolutely need to engage, to move, to interact in the classroom setting.” Rockford schools have tried other tools for restless students as well, including a small rollout of exercise ball chairs.

In lieu of being fidget free, Denneson was amused to get thank yous from parents. There were some disgruntled students, but for the most part they have calmed down. And as for the teachers? “They are delighted,” she says.