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Which Fidget Toys are best for YOU?

I was blown away to see the popularity of Fidget Cube on Kickstarter a couple of years ago. Over 50,000 “backers” pledged more than $2,000,000  in just the first week (and the developers were only looking for $15,000 to get started).  Despite a hint of jealousy, I’m truly delighted to see this.  As the President of Trainers Warehouse, I’ve been selling and developing fidget toys since 1998. Today, we sell the world’s largest selection of fidget toys to both adult and youth markets.

The best part about Fidget Cube’s sweeping success, is that it reflects  a new awareness and acceptance of fidget toys. It’s about time. Over 6.4 million American children aged 4-17 are reported to have been diagnosed with ADHD. While Fidget Cube is new and unique, featuring six different fiddling experiences all in one item — you can click, glide, switch, press, roll, or spin the gizmos on each side of the cube — the understanding that different people prefer to fidget in different ways is old news. When it comes to keeping idle fingers busy, fidgeters have a myriad of options. I hope this perspective will help you find your perfect fidget toy or toys.

Why fidget?

Many recent studies and articles in both scientific and popular magazines have explored the causes and effects of fidgeting. If you were to ask people who are fidgeters, why they do it, they’ll likely tell you they can’t help it. . . they simply can’t sit still. Thankfully, educators are have come to understand that it’s okay. In fact, research and anecdotal evidence have identified many benefits derived from fidgeting, fidget toys and doodling, such as:

  • Improved focus – kinesthetic learners focus better if they have something to do with their hands
  • Use of “floating attention” enables people to concentrate better on a single task
  • Stress relief– hand-held manipulatives can put people at ease
  • Promotion of a relaxed, playful mindset
  • Engagement the whole brain – discussions are left-brained; toys tap into the creative right brain
  • Increased memory and retention

What’s your perfect fidget toy?

Many fidgeters will use whatever object happens to be in their hand or on their desk. This probably sounds familiar to pencil chewers, pen clickers, ring twisters, nail biters, hair twirlers, and key-chain swingers. They’ll fidget with whatever is most easily within arms reach.

However, rather than leaving it to chance, savvy educators and meeting planners who understand the benefits of fidgeting have taken to providing an assortment of fidget toys to their groups. If you ever put out a basket of different sorts of fidget toys, you’ll be intrigued to see that one type doesn’t suit all. Different people have different preferences for both the tactile experience of a fidget toy and the types of movement it enables. Consider some of these variables:

  • Material – Fidget toys run the gamut when it comes to material. Wood, plastic, metal, rubber, stone, and latex components can create items that feel soft, squishy, hard, wiry, or malleable. The “softer” fidget toys, such as sand, clay or putty, fuzzy pipe cleaners, and squeezable balls like the air-filled. Puffer Balls, and sand-filled Isoflex Balls lend themselves to squeezing and shaping.  Beach-in-a-Box kinesthetic sand fall into this category too. Materials that are more firm are often manipulated in other ways, such as bending, flexing or twisting. Tangle, Klixx, and Magnetic Stones are great examples. In a class by itself is the KOOSH ball with its iconic rubbery strands offering a singularly unique feel.
  • Motion – Some are not drawn to a fidget toy because of the material, but rather the motion used to manipulate it. Consider what form of movement is most soothing — stretching, twisting, flexing, building, spinning, shaping, clicking, etc. When thinking about the motion required to manipulate a fidget toy, you will become aware that some are better suited for either one hand or two, while others are satisfying no matter how many hands you use. You will also find that some require the motion of just one finger (like pen clicking), rather than using more muscles. Fidget toys that let you build, mold or shape can stoke creativity and activate different areas of the brain in a way that simply clicking a pen would not do. Gyrobi, Loopeez and Jeliku, each move in a distinct fashion.
  • Size – Having a fidget that’s small in size can be a big issue. I’ve heard of many fidgeters who like to keep something in a pant pocket, so that it’s easily transported, indiscreet, and can be used without anyone seeing. Tutti from Fidgetland is a great example. Small fidget toys can also be ideal for one-handed use and finger-tip manipulation. However, the small items don’t always feel as good in your hand as ones that are a bit larger and chunkier, which can both feel more substantial and engage more of your muscles and therefore more parts of the brain.
  • Weight – our fidget toy testers tend to prefer items that have a little heft or weight. Of course, they can’t be too heavy or cumbersome, but those that are really light or flimsy are often found to be less appealing.
  • Appearance – Even though fidgeting is really a tactile experience, looks do seem to matter. Fidgeters are drawn to playful colors, looks, and shapes when choosing the perfect fidget toy. Because memory and recall have been shown to improve when more areas of the brain are activated, the additional stimulus created by the visual, auditory, and emotional experience of using a fidget toy is likely to have a positive impact.
  • Cost – Serious fidgeters are the least sensitive to cost and will not flinch at a cost of $10-$25 for a single item. If you’re looking to purchase one item for individual use, you will likely pay a premium for the right item. If you like variety or are buying for a classroom, meeting room, or team of people, you may have a stronger interest in keeping the individual price a little lower. Fidget toys generally run anywhere from $1.00 to $12.00, with the average being closer to $3.50.
  • Sound – ideally a fidget toy will be silent, but not all of them are.  A pen clicking is not silent, nor is a Slinky, but they are still great fidget tools. Simply be aware that some may be louder and more distracting than others and ascertain whether your group is mature enough to control the sounds of their fidget toys or not.
  • Durability – many tools that we use as fidgets were initially developed for the toy market. They are fairly inexpensive and if you try to break them, you probably will succeed. If it’s not strong enough to withstand a lot of repetitive motion, it shouldn’t be called a fidget toy! Still, you will find some variance in durability and washability. Hard plastic, wood, and metal are likely to stand the test of time longer than rubbery or gel-filled items, which pick up more dirt and are more difficult to clean.

Fidget toys come in literally dozens of colors, shapes, sizes, and materials. If you’re among the millions of people to have #fidgetfever, taking a bit of time to think about what features will suit your needs or the needs of your group can help you narrow your options. I encourage you to jump on the Fidget Cube bandwagon and support them through KickStarter AND start building your own collection of fidget toys, so that no matter what your mood, what you’re doing, or who you’re with, you have the perfect fidget to help you focus. Some great shops for fidget toys include:  Trainers Warehouse and Therapy Shoppe.

More on choosing fidgets

More articles and research on Fidgeting

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