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 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?

Conclusion to The Child Whisperer

the child whisperer in education

This post is part of a series on The Child Whisperer and using it in the classroom. To see more, head here.

I’ve now written about all four Child Whisperer types and how to use them in the classroom. I’ve said this before but I’ll say it again, it truly can be incredibly helpful to learn more about your student’s personality types when you are spending so much time in a room together. It can ease frustrations and give you more clarity in some of their behaviors and actions. Whether you use enneagram, Myers-Briggs, The Child Whisperer, or another personality type test, it can give you a better idea of each of your students. 

Personally, I think The Child Whisperer is one of the easier personality types to use in the classroom setting, because it’s geared toward children, and there are only four types. It focuses on the energy of the child and how they utilize said energy. 

If you haven’t yet, check out all four types of The Child Whisperer on our blog and let us know if it’s helpful for you to use in your classroom! 

The Child Whisperer: Type Three

This post is part of a series on The Child Whisperer and using it in the classroom. To see more, head here.

Alright, it’s time to talk about Type Three of the child whisperer! For The Child Whisperer types, it’s important to remember that this is not just personality typing, it’s channeling in on a child’s energy and how they use their energy. Most everyone has all four types in them, but one or two shine through the most in the majority of situations. 

Type three is typically known as “The Determined Child.” A type three’s primary connection to the world is through being physical in some way, and their primary need is to have support from loved ones as they experience new things. 

Words that describe type two: busy, physical, energetic, forward thinkers.  

Tips for teaching a type three: 

Consistency is huge for a type three child. And so is pushing them out of their comfort zone! They may take some coaxing sometimes, but typically once they are given the support to try something new or big, they take off with it and shoot for the stars! 

Oftentimes a type three child can forget who is in charge and need to be reminded. Their big, bold personalities take over and they try to step in and take charge when they can. 

They will be your students rushing through work and then buzzing off to the next assignment, task, or even next activity that might get them in trouble! Staying busy is what they need most, even if they cannot communicate that to you. 

Do you have a type three child in your classroom? What have you learned through teaching this type of student? 

Let’s Grow With A Growth Mindset!

Have you heard of a growth mindset? Many schools are embracing and adopting this idea for their teachers and students to study and use in their work. What is a growth mindset? Why is it important? How can we use it to our advantage? 

There is research that our brains can and will grow. Our learning is not limited to our brain’s capacity, but to our drive and work, we put into the learning. Having a fixed mindset is thinking, “I am who I am. My personality, abilities, and intelligence cannot change because they were predetermined when I was born.” A growth mindset is saying “I can learn and change who I am and how I act if I am willing to put in the time and effort to grow, stretch, and learn.” 

Challenges, failures, and shortcomings are welcomed with open arms to those with a growth mindset because they view them as an opportunity to grow and learn. This infographic is one of my favorites to show the difference between a fixed and growth mindset. 

Carol Dweck Ph. D, who has researched the idea of a growth mindset and wrote a book on the idea states, 

“Do people with this mindset believe that anyone can be anything, that anyone with proper motivation or education can become Einstein or Beethoven? No, but they believe that a person’s true potential is unknown (and unknowable); that it’s impossible to foresee what can be accomplished with years of passion, toil, and training.”

So now that we know what is it, why is it important to us? Well, the obvious is for our students. Let’s teach them to have a growth mindset, let’s show them how they can positively affirm in their minds that they may not be able to do it… yet. But with work, they can. 

But let’s also remember ourselves. Wherever you are in the education field, not only are you educating students, but you’re educating yourself as well. You are constantly learning about new teaching methods, new education findings, information on your students, information about your school. The education never stops when you’re an educator yourself, so apply this to you! 

Maybe that ESL endorsement class is hard for you. The homework is overwhelming and time management isn’t in your favor. You can’t do it… yet. But you can do it if you try! 

I have told my daughter for as long as she could understand me, “We can do hard things!” and I’ve said it to her often, as well as had her repeat it back to me while she is attempting something difficult such as riding a bike for the first time. I recently changed our positive affirmation to give her a little more information and confidence. 

“I can do it if I try.” 

We can do hard things and I want her to remember that. But I also want her to know that “if I try” is just as important in repeating and saying to ourselves. We can try new things, we can do hard things if we try!”. 

How do you use a growth mindset in your classroom? What have you seen as an outcome of using a growth mindset not only for your students but for yourself? 

Quote and info-graphic from brainpickings.org

Kids Become What You Tell Them They Are

I cannot tell you how many sub jobs I’ve walked into where the students blatantly say, “We are a bad class, it’s okay if you get frustrated with us, we’re the worst class in the whole school.” 

This is the most heartbreaking thing to hear come out of these students’ mouths. 

Kids become what you tell them they are. 

If you’re telling them how chatty, disruptive, and disrespectful they are, these attributes will remain on their mind and will not go away. 

If you tell them how respectful, helpful, and kind they are, I promise you they will live up to this standard you have set. I know, because I witnessed it. 

I did a long-term substitute teaching job in a first-grade classroom. Right away I had teachers saying under their breath to me, “Oh. You have that class? Good luck, they are the worst class in the whole school.” With this being my first real teaching job outside of graduating, it did not reassure me in any way. 

After observing this class a few times before I took over full time, I saw exactly what they meant. They were disrespectful, there was always side talking, someone was always out of their seat, and expectations were never met. The students even talked about how bad of a class they were because they were hearing it from teachers across the whole school. They believed it. I was grateful that I had time to witness this and process what was going on before my first day because I went in with a game plan that I truly believe helped shape our 8 weeks together. 

“Class, today is our first day together and we need to start it with the most important things first. Everyone come gather at the rug, I have some news for you.” 

They quickly took their place at the rug, everyone intrigued by what I was about to tell them. 

“Now, we all know your teacher is gone to have her baby for the next few weeks and I am here to teach you while she is gone. BUT, I want to tell you about the conversation your principal had with me when he called to ask if I would teach your class. Do you know what he told me?” 

“Yeah, that our class SUCKS.” A student yelled out. 

There it was. Not even five minutes into the day and they were already down on themselves for having the worst behavior.

I was determined to fix it. 

“No, actually, he said the opposite. He told me how kind, how respectful, and how fun you all are. He told me this classroom is a happy space and that I would be the luckiest teacher in the world to spend a few months with you.” 

Looks of shock covered their faces. I just went against everything they were ever told, who were they supposed to believe now? I continued to go on and on about how excellent of a class they were and how much potential they had. After a while, a little, shy voice popped up and said, “One lunch lady said we are a very nice class, so maybe it’s true.” 

A small smile grew on my face because it was working. Slowly, they would believe me. I knew it. 

It took time, lots of time. And it took a lot of reminding as well. I would walk them into P.E. or music and say out loud to the specialty teacher, “Have you met this class yet? They are the BEST class in the whole entire school. They are so respectful, so responsible, and are always ready to learn. They will be so good for you today!” 

I was shot a lot of confused looks at first, but it was incredibly helpful for my students to witness me talk so highly of them in front of other adults. It also became beneficial for other adults as well. As we would walk the halls of the school they would pass by my quietly lined up class and say, “Wow! Look how respectful these students are as they walk these halls! They are the best class!” 

I focused on their good behaviors and those shone through. 

I told them over and over how helpful, kind, and respectful they were and they started to not only believe it but act that way as well. 

I showed other teachers in the school just how great my class could be. 

A once rowdy, disrespectful class became an example to others throughout the school. 

Every single class and student out there has the potential to be amazing if you foster it and allow it. Look for the good and you’ll find more and more of it every single day. 

My Favorite Positive Reinforcement Strategies In The Classroom

You can read countless research studies on a positive environment and how using these positive reinforcement strategies can help you see better behavior in kids, spouses, pets, co-workers and more. When it comes down to it, those who are properly praised for a task will statistically try harder and do better the next time it is expected of them. 

Creating a positive classroom culture starts with a simple positive comment toward your students. Here are a few of my favorite positive reinforcement ideas I came up with while teaching. 

A cheerio or other cereal placed on the desks of students who are following directions. 

Tally points on the board for groups that were working together or following directions, that ended up amounting to no reward other than “winning” against other groups. 

Little stickers for students showing correct behaviors. 

High-fives to those following directions. Oprah style worked best for us- “Johnny gets a high-five, Amelia gets a high-five, Andrew gets a high-five! Awesome job on following directions!” It’s amazing what kids will do for a simple high-five and a little public praise. 

Simple and subtle compliments to students working hard. 

We put a money economy system in place with coins. It’s fun to see the hard work first graders will put into cleaning up the floor at the end of the day when a plastic nickel is on the line. 

My favorite way by far was telling the class every single day what an amazing group of students they are. They become what you tell them they are- So tell them they are great and eventually they are going to believe you. I have more thoughts on this later, stayed tuned for another blog post regarding this. 

Praising positive behaviors yields productive results. It has been researched, it’s science. And on top of that, I’ve witnessed first-hand how well it works, not only with my students, but my children, and even, MY DOG. 

How have you made your classroom a positive place?