Fidget Kits are quickly becoming standard tools in a lot of classrooms and homes but it is not always easy to see how they might fit in an informal setting. Through a lot of trial and error, Shoestring Science has actually implemented these tools in programs and we’ve definitely had huge success and some important failures along the way.
What are Fidget Kits and Sensory Breaks?
Fidget kits are tools that have been used in classrooms and homes for a long time but first caught my attention in 2016 when they exploded onto pinterest (or maybe when I did). The idea behind these tools is basically that a lot of behavior troubles stem not from difficult learners but learners with feelings or energy with no outlet. Fidget kits provide learners with sensory input that helps to channel these energies or emotions into a format which still allows for participation in the classroom. There are a lot of really awesome blogs about this and even commercially available kits. The true trouble, at least in an informal setting, comes from the potential cost of these kits and also the time required to build them into classroom culture.
How to build a Fidget kit on the cheap:
1. Identify your needs:
a. Ask yourself:
i. What are you trying to address with your fidget kit?
ii. Does your space lack windows and you need calming activities?
iii. Do you need focusing activities to help learners take a break or calm down?
iv. Are there any noise/lights/sensory things that will distract you?--this is really important to consider and was definitely something that we had trouble with. Our first fidget kit had a lot of noisy things in it which made teaching difficult for some of our educators.
2. Identify your budget
3. Explore what you have on hand
What can your fidget kit have?
1. Items that provide proprioceptive support/body feedback- this category is tricky to define but basically incorporates things that provide an input that helps the learner orient themselves in space
a. Weighted lap pad— these can be crazy expensive but we created mini ones with scrap fabric, beans and cotton as filler. The beans were heavy enough to feel weighted and the mixture of cotton and beans allowed for an interesting tactile experience.
b. Resistance bands— again, these are pricey but stretchy fabric has a similar effect and can be found at Goodwill or in scrap fabric bins. We also built these with beads and stretchy string but they tended to end up in mouths.
2. Tactile input
a. Sensory Gel— to create at home we’ve tried sodium polyacrylate (the stuff in baby diapers) to create a gel and mixed in beads but found that these eat through the plastic. Double bagging and applying packing tape to the outside seems to prolong the life. We’ve also used hair gel to the same effect.
b. Slime/silly putty/play-dough— there are so many recipes online for these items, but putting this into a container like a bag definitely helps. Alternatively, dollar stores usually have some version which works well.
c. Plastic fidgets— there are some items like this which can be made if you have access to a 3-D printer, but honestly dollar stores may be the best bet here. Items in this category are objects which can be fit together in multiple ways like a Tangle or ones that have turnable gears or pressable buttons.
d. Stress balls— you can make these with balloons and flour by filling a balloon with flour, tying it off and placing it in another balloon but these tend to pop. However, what a stress ball really does is allow a user to squeeze it without destruction and there are a lot of dollar store items that will accomplish this. Squishies and pet toys fit this input category well. Another item that might work here are stretchy toys which are also easily found in dollar stores.
e. Texture toys— this category really covers things with interesting textures--some learners like to run their hands over weird textures. I have had a lot of luck in this category by repurposing items. Screen cleaners for examples often have a strange shag carpet like texture which is wonderful. Koosh balls--if you can find them--are also great. One thing that was especially helpful here was a sequin board we created. Reversible sequins are really popular and you can purchase the fabric at fabric stores. We actually glued some of the fabric to a clipboard to create a sequin board which was very popular with our learners. Chenille stems can be implemented here.
3. Brain break— these items allow for a longer break and may require separation from the group to be used.
a. Blocks— we had access to a lot of Kapla blocks and packed them into a kit which could be used to build. Focusing on balancing the blocks can provide a needed temporary break.
b. Beads and Clay— we kept a container of play-dough with beads in it and asked learners to pull the beads out. The act of doing this requires focusing on something else which really helped to promote calming down.
c. Buddha Boards— these are boards that let you paint with water and are reusable. We had some lying around so we incorporated them and found them to be really great for a longer break.
d. Books- we always had books around and offered them as a break whenever needed.
e. Lacing kits— These are really easy to find in dollar stores and are a great break.
f. Hush jars— these are commercially available but also easily made by mixing water, glue, glycerine and powdered glitter in a clean jar. The proportions are things that need to be played with but generally, I have found that mixing half glue with water and a teaspoon to a tablespoon of glycerine really helps. The glitter you use has to be very fine or it does not settle out right. I have also found that adding some dish soap (a drop or two) keeps the glitter from sticking to the top of the jar. These can also be made with mineral oil, water and glitter. The idea of these is that you shake the jar and watch the contents settle. Sand timers seems to provide a similar input if nothing else is available.
How do you implement a Fidget Kit:
In a formal setting, bringing these kits into play might look very different because there is time to appropriately build in the culture that these are tools and not toys. In an informal setting, though, sometimes a week is the longest you have the same group of learners and so fast implementation and explanation are critical.
Ideally, you’d be able to slowly introduce the kit with a few items at a time and model their use but this is not always possible. Also, you’d want the kit to be equally available to everyone in a setting but this is also sometimes a pipe dream. So how do you use these in a quick setting with little introductory time?
Introduce the kit as tools and not toys, this exact wording seems to help and little more seems to be needed
Agree together on what might happen if the tools are misused
Demonstrate the most eye catching items in the kit (slime, plastic toys, etc.) and model their use
Limit kits to a few items if time is limited
Maintain control of the kit--hand out items when needed if access to the whole kit is distracting
Set boundaries for when the kits can be used
Framing them specifically as tools to help the learners listen to instructions can give more clarity for some students who have difficulty with the “tools not toys” definition, and allows for reasonable time and situational restrictions i.e. if we’re not trying to listen to instructions and are instead actively working on a project or challenge, the fidgets don’t need to be out.
Remind learners not to worry about what others are doing should complaints arise (i.e. one learner is upset that they have not gotten a fidget when another has).
Be aware of everyone's needs with the kit--not just learners or educators. Some people are very distracted by noises and others by lights.
Quickly intervene if items are being used as toys—if you let this go once, it is very hard to stop this perception.
Don’t use access to the kit as a reward--these are tools to help focus, not things that can be accessed when work is done.
Either keep the introduction very short, a minute or two at most or provide explanation as tools are provided.
Don’t be afraid to take tools back or assign them, especially if they are being misused