Here at COCo, we are often getting schooled by the people around us—and boy, are we grateful for it! Recently, we’ve been learning a lot about workshop accessibility from a resource guide produced by Accessibilize Montreal. They’re an amazing community group made up largely of dis/abled people fighting systemic discrimination.
One of those lessons was about fidget toys— that is, slinkies, koosh balls, bean bags, stress balls, and all those other silent, malleable toys you can find in the dollar store. The idea is this: there are a lot of us out there who learn better when there is movement or sensory input happening at the same time. Forget learning better: lots of people have trouble learning at all without this, often resorting to shuffling around, doodling, tapping their feet, etc. The solution is providing learners with fidget toys—things people can play with, squeeze and touch while they listen, without causing any distraction to the people around them.
Most of the research on fidget toys has been done with children, but the data is strong: in one public school, the average writing score increased 10% with stress balls. The increase for students with ADHD was highest, with a 27% increase (Stalvey & Brasell, 2006). With those results, why they are not more common seems more to do with our rigid, and often damaging, ideas about learning: for most people, a good student is one sitting silent, unmoving, and making eye contact. The truth is that, whether adults or children, that is simply not the best way for most people to absorb information.
Using them with adult learners requires normalizing the experience. Accessibilize Montreal writes: “don’t just provide fidget toys for the people you think might need them—make them available to everyone”. In the workshops where I have used them, probably 1/3 to ½ of the group picked them up at one point, many people using them throughout the session. Session participants made a point of saying how much they appreciated it, and many noted that they noticed a marked difference in their focus and concentration.
Of course, fidget toys are just one part of providing a learning environment that challenges our ideas about education and starts from a baseline of meeting people’s needs. We’re excited to share more of those tools, and eventually the resource guide in its entirety, over the course of the next few months!