Friend or Foe? Fidget Toys in the Classroom

Fidget Toys: the very thought can make teachers (and parents) groan and roll their eyes. From stress balls to fidget spinners, there always seems to be some new gadget taking over your classroom. Should they be banned? Should they be embraced? The debate has been ongoing ever since stress balls first gained popularity in the 1980s. The practice of using sensory tools, however, has been around for much longer. Baoding balls originated during the Ming dynasty and were used to reduce stress, improve brain function, and aid in dexterity development. Before weighted blankets, there were Turkish yorgans which date back to the 16th century. The average winter yorgan weighed anywhere from nine to thirteen pounds. Komboloi, or “worry beads”, were used in Ancient Greece to promote relaxation.

While these sensory tools might have been around for centuries, the science behind them has only recently been looked into. Dr. Anna Jean Ayres first identified Sensory Integration in the 1960’s when she noticed there were children who struggled with functional tasks who didn’t fit into the specific categories of disability that were used at the time. She developed the term “Sensory Integrative Dysfunction” to describe the problems faced by children whose brains struggle to receive, process, or respond to sensory input. Sensory input instructs us on how to respond to our environment and there are consequences from being over or under-stimulated, especially for children who are still learning how to process these cues. When confronted with bright lights, messy or cluttered spaces, and loud noises, children can become agitated and retreat to quieter spaces; whether that is physically finding relief in a less stimulating area or by shutting off their sensory receptors and essentially shutting down. When stimulation is restricted, as is common in a traditional classroom, children will find their own ways to meet their sensory needs. Teachers know exactly what this looks like: tapping, bouncing up and down, kicking, touching everything and everyone, chewing on pencils, making noises, or getting out of their seat to go on some made-up “but I really needed to throw this away” mission.

This is exactly where fidget toys come in handy. (Ha! I didn’t even realize that was a pun until revising this post). And I’m not talking about fidget spinners in all their noisy, distracting glory.

It might be counter-intuitive to think that doing two things at once can enhance a student’s ability to focus on their lessons but evidence is slowly backing it up. One study demonstrated how increased movement boosted the cognitive performance of children with ADHD. Another found that students who used stress balls had improved focus, attitude, social interactions, and even writing abilities. The trick with fidget toys is finding those that don’t require so much brain power that they pull focus from the main task. How many of you have your own fidget methods that you revert to without realizing? Do you chew on pencils or repeatedly click your pen? Perhaps you doodle or bounce your leg. We all have different ideas of what an optimal “focus zone” looks like and it’s important to help students discover their own learning styles and preferences. It’s important for adults too–I decided to invest in my own fidget toys a few months ago and I always keep one at my desk. 

Looking out over your sea of pupils, it can be a little overwhelming to try and figure out their individual needs but as I always say, “When in doubt, ask it out!” As you go into a new school year, reach out to the parents and ask what has helped their child calm down in the past. Do they have a history of thumb-sucking? They would probably respond well to chewelry or rubber pencil toppers. Having a quiet space in your classroom or noise-canceling headphones would be good options for children who need time alone in their room to defuse. Some students need physical contact in order to stay grounded so pressure vests or weighted lap pads would benefit them the most. 

Another great way to learn your students’ individual learning styles is to involve them! Have them complete a task while adjusting the volume of background noise and have a discussion about which one was easiest for them to work with. Give them fidget toys to use while reading to them or showing them a video and then ask them if they were able to focus better or if it was a distraction. This also helps your students develop self-regulation skills. Giving your students access to different sensory tools allows them to stop seeing them as toys and start to recognize when they really need them.

If this sounds like wishful thinking, there are lots of people who would agree with you. Fortunately there are also lots of tips and tricks out there to help you integrate fidget toys into your classroom. Here are some of the most common ones that I encountered in my research:

  1. BOUNDARIES. Work with your students to come up with rules for the fidget toys that they are willing to follow. Post the rules somewhere in your classroom as a visual reminder.
  2. Have a variety of tools available to the class. This can prevent jealousy among students and allows you to use discretion in deciding what toys are actually beneficial. 
  3. Find toys that don’t produce noise or require sight to use. The kids should be able to use their hands or feet to fidget while using their eyes and ears to learn.
  4. Be patient! Once your students get used to the sensory tools in the classroom, the novelty will wear off and they’ll be less of a distraction.
  5. Remind your students that “fair” isn’t the same thing as “equal”. Different people have different needs and it’s important to support those needs.

Ultimately the choice to integrate sensory tools into your classroom is up to you! The fad fidget toys will come and go, but there are plenty of tried and true options that can really work wonders when properly used.

Are fidget toys a menace to society or a misunderstood ally? What challenges or successes have you seen come from them?

Teaching ORANGE: Using the True Colors Personality Test in the Classroom

This post is part of a series of posts on teaching to different personality types as found in the True Colors Personality Test. To see more, head here.

Orange you glad it’s time for another True Colors Personality post? Much like that pun, people with an orange personality are all about taking risks and having fun. They are energetic, spontaneous, and courageous. Your orange students are the ones who struggle the most with the restrictions of the classroom but they still manage to lift others with their infectious optimism. Everything is an adventure in the mind of an orange. 

Students with an orange personality need hands-on learning in order to succeed. They want to be physically involved in the learning process and see visible results. Incorporate the tangible and tactile in your lessons whenever possible. Their mental process might not make sense to an outside observer but they are incredibly clever and somehow manage to get to the right answer. They thrive on attention and internalize praise the deepest when their skills are recognized and the praise is manifested with actions.

Much like ESFPs, these students are your performers and entertainers. They lean into artistic studies and would rather start their own business than work for someone else. Having to sit at a desk all day and meet deadlines is their idea of a nightmare. Give your orange students time away from their desk as well as opportunities to be in front of their peers. Use their unconventional processes as a learning opportunity for others in the class. And who knows? Maybe their methods will help another student struggling with the material. Their peers might find them obnoxious, selfish, and impulsive but oranges are so friendly and charming that it’s hard to dislike them for long. Keep an eye out for your orange students though; their exaggerated reactions make them a target for other students to pick on. They like to give off the appearance of being unaffected, but they still internalize the teasing remarks.

The fastest way to lose an orange’s focus is to keep them confined to their desk, which can’t always be helped in a classroom setting. They have an insatiable curiosity and are very welcoming of other ideas. They crave collaboration and they want to be exploring concepts and bouncing ideas around with others. Consider keeping some fidget tools on hand for them to use when they have to stay at their desks. These students love competitions and taking risks. They walk a fine line between always having multiple things going on and becoming stressed by too much responsibility. Teach them about work/life balance and remind them that sometimes they need to work hard before they can play hard.

There is never a dull moment with an orange personality, which isn’t always a good thing. On a bad day, they might act out, break rules, run away, or make bad impulse decisions. In these moments, it is vital to maintain structure to show them that things will go on as normal once they calm down. While their reactions are likely to be dramatic, don’t draw attention to them after they compose themselves as this can cause embarrassment and lead them to pull away.

Your orange students might exasperate you more than the rest, but at the end of the day you can’t help but appreciate what they bring to the classroom. Allow them to have fun and be creative. For those who teach junior and high school students, it’s more important than ever to cultivate that creativity. Encourage them to participate in the arts. Even if the skills aren’t there, they need to be able to express themselves. Educate them about trade schools, as those are often very hands-on careers that don’t require a lot of desk work. 

What have you found to be the most beneficial when teaching orange students? What advice do you have for teachers struggling to contain an orange personality?

Teaching BLUE: Using the True Colors Personality Test in the Classroom

This post is part of a series of posts on teaching to different personality types as found in the True Colors Personality Test. To see more, head here.

The color blue has often been used to represent sadness but that is not the case with a blue personality. Those with a blue personality often take on the roles of peacemaker and caretaker. These are the students who are enthusiastic, compassionate, and idealistic. Consequently, they are also the students who are easily stressed out by conflict and negative criticism. They want their peers to look up to them, but not for their academic achievements–blues want to be recognized for their authenticity and ability to make friends.

Don’t be surprised if these students also score as ENFJ and ESFJ personality types. They are eager to learn and help others and they are constantly asking how their actions can benefit others. They dream big dreams and are comfortable going with the flow but they still like to plan for things–mostly because they are always thinking of how they can use their time to benefit others.

They prefer to let their emotions guide them. As someone with a blue personality, I find it difficult to dedicate myself to any material that I’m not passionate about and the second something makes me feel anxious or uncomfortable, I tend to abandon it completely. (I was also once exiled to the back of the classroom with nothing but a chair and a clipboard because I was too chatty. My teacher quickly realized that wouldn’t stop me from talking, it just meant I had to talk louder so people could hear me). Instead of trying to restrict these students even further, allow them to have free time and explore the subject in a way they can get excited about.

Blue personalities thrive on validation and it resonates most when praise is manifested in a physical way; a touch on the shoulder, high fives, and gold stars are good places to start. If you are vocalizing your appreciation it is best to be honest and sincere as well as enthusiastic. Because they rely so much on their emotions, they don’t handle criticism well and can become very withdrawn in situations where they’ve been chastised. If you do need to correct them, you can’t be too quick to also remind them that you still care about them.

Like McKenzie mentioned in her posts about Sensing and Intuitive students, it’s important to utilize both methods of learning. Blues are often already able to switch between the two pretty seamlessly and can use them simultaneously. They love hands-on activities and they absorb information more effectively when they can experience it. They learn by “connecting the dots” and using what they already know to bridge the gap from familiar concepts to new material. Blues are very intuitive and use that skill to make connections and apply what they are learning to their personal lives.

Your blue students might come across as overly-emotional, passive, and a bit of a pushover. If you want to help them grow, teach them the importance of boundaries and how to express their opinions. They have a tendency to avoid conflict and will try and stay away from competitive activities–start them out with small-scale classroom competitions where they won’t have to stress about the whole class watching. Keep an eye on the other students to make sure they aren’t taking advantage of a blue’s generosity and keep an eye on the blues to make sure they take a break from taking care of those around them and take care of themselves.

It is critical to foster their desire to help others. Let them help and influence others as often as possible. For those teaching high school students, present them with extra-curricular opportunities to volunteer. Provide them information on tutoring programs and service projects. Like gold personalities, blue students also do well in leadership roles because it allows them to make decisions that will help others.

What experiences have you had teaching students with a blue personality? How do you help them balance their social side with the structure of the classroom?

Teaching GOLD: Using the True Colors Personality Test in the Classroom

true colors personality testing, gold

This post is part of a series of posts on teaching to different personality types as found in the True Colors Personality Test. To see more, head here.

There has never been a better use for the term “solid gold” as there is for describing the gold personality types in your classroom. They are the dependable, responsible, and organized kids in your classroom. They flourish under the structure of the classroom and they like to plan for every detail of the day, month, and even the school year. These are the students that can easily become stressed by a disruption to their routine or when there is too much going on at once.

Much like the ENTJs and the INTJs of the Myers Briggs Personality Test, these students need clear objectives. Providing them with a visual goal and a written schedule can provide them a sense of stability and allow them to put their head down and dive into their work.

Gold students are typically on top of assignments and can often handle more work when needed. Consider assigning them “executive” tasks: passing out/collecting assignments, having them help with rearranging/reorganizing the classroom, even having them assist you in retrieving supplies from other teachers. These are the kids who get a thrill going into the teacher’s lounge because it shows them that the teachers trust them.

In order to help gold students feel valued, it’s crucial to be sincere and specific in your praise. They want to know their thoroughness, skills, and responsibility are recognized and appreciated. Make sure to remind them that their contributions are important to others and that they are an integral part of their class.

The best way to push your gold students is to challenge them to think about how their decisions affect others. Pair them with those who think in more abstract ways (think the blues and greens) to introduce them to new ideas and ways of seeing things. Give them support while showing them that the world won’t end if they don’t have a plan and caution them against passing judgment. Remind them to take breaks throughout the day as they have a tendency to put work before play, even if it means working overtime.

Other people might see their gold classmates as bossy, controlling, and judgmental so make sure to help the other students focus on gold’s dependability and their willingness to help solve problems. Encourage the other students to express their appreciation for the ways a gold contributes to the classroom. Help guide your students to rephrase the challenges that can come from working with a gold personality into positive opportunities for growth. Remind them that everyone has something unique and valuable to offer.

Someone with a gold personality might complain of psychosomatic symptoms when they are stressed; keep an eye out for the students who constantly complain of stomach aches or ask to call their parents to come pick them up. They are most likely feeling overwhelmed, so check in on them and see if you can help lighten their load.

Your gold students are most likely going to be a healthy mix of introverts and extroverts. The extroverted gold is probably the first student to raise their hand when the class is asked a question (a Hermione Granger, if you will), while the introverts are content to tune out others and get to work. Group projects can be challenging for gold personalities because they can feel held back by their peers and they don’t have space to think for themselves. However, because golds want to share their knowledge and absorb as much information as they can, keeping them in pairs or small groups works best. They can be stubborn at times and butt heads with other gold or orange personalities, but simplifying their differences down to colors can help them better understand each other and use those differences to their advantage.

For those teaching middle and high school students, encourage your gold students to sign up for honors classes. Discuss with them the idea of joining the debate team or applying for student leadership positions. They are probably already looking into extracurricular activities but some might not know where to start or which to choose so it’s important to provide them with the right resources.

Do you have any stories from teaching gold personality types? What have you done to help them be more flexible?

True Colors Personality Testing: Using it in the Classroom

true colors personality testing

I’ve done multiple series on personality testing and how to use it in the classroom. I believe you should have access to multiple different tests and resources because one test will be more beneficial and easier for one teacher, while another test will make more sense to someone else. You can read more on Myers-Briggs, The Child Whisperer, and Enneagram here. 

Now I’m ready to start my new series on a new personality typing! The True Color personality test is just another way to understand your mind as well as others’. It gives four different colors, gold, orange, green, and blue. Based on the personality you match with, it can give you insight into your day-to-day decisions and even into which careers are common for your personality type. 

I really like this PDF that you can use in the classroom to print off and let your students use to test their color personality. Once they’ve figured out which color they are, they can also learn more about themselves and their peers. This is also a cool video showing some history on personality typing in general and some background on the True Colors Test.

Stay tuned for weekly blog posts on each color personality typing and how you can learn about it further and use it in your classroom. 

Teaching Empathy in School

teaching empathy in schools

A big change in the school’s curriculum over the last ten years is adding in the process of teaching empathy to kids. While some parents and teachers believe it’s a waste of time in the day, others have seen the positive effects of taking that time out of their day to explicitly teach how to be empathetic to their students. 

This YouTube video is a pretty well-known video, as it’s been out for a few years. However, I think it’s a great reminder no matter how many times you’ve watched it! 

I noticed firsthand how well modeling empathy works as I watched my 4-year-old daughter sit on the steps with her crying friend. She placed her hand on her friend’s shoulder, sat in the sound of her cries for a time, and eventually said, “This made you really sad, I am here for you.” 

My four-year-old had just displayed better empathetic skills than I ever have and I was blown away! But upon pondering why she was so incredible at handling the situation at such a young age, I came to the conclusion that she has an army of great examples all around her teaching empathy, being myself, her grandparents, her teachers, and more! 

After this encounter with my daughter, it really made me stand on the side of teaching empathy in schools and how important it can look. Because what would have been the alternative to her not showing empathy? Her friend would have been crying on the stairs and my daughter would have reacted in a way that included saying things like, “Stop crying, it’s time to play!” or, “Sorry you’re sad, that sucks for you.” and it would have dismissed her friend’s feelings, causing more sadness and hurt. But instead, she recognized the feelings in her friend and sat in sadness with her for as long as it took. 

I can’t see why the alternative would have been a better way for her to react than using her skills to show empathy would have been. So, yes. I do stand on the side of teaching empathy in schools. And yes, it will take more time and effort on everyone’s part. But what results would come from it? In extreme cases, it can save a life. 

What are your thoughts on teaching empathy in schools? 

A New Page Just for Personality Typing in the Classroom

Over the last few years of writing for this blog, I’ve featured a variety of different personality typing and how to use the knowledge of these in your classrooms. They’ve become more and more popular posts over time. Today I wanted to share it with you, my new page chucked full of this information for you! 

On the page, you will see buttons with links to each different personality series. Clicking these links will bring you to a new page where you have easy access to the different personality types in that category and the articles on using the knowledge of this in your classroom. 

You can find the new page here. 

Have you started using personality typing in your classroom? Which test do you prefer, and how has it helped you as a teacher?