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Best Fidget Toys for Sensory Input
Enrich Your Child's Sensory Diet with fun Fidget Toys!
Fidget toys, or stress toys for you business folks out there, are tools that are used to help calm the body and mind. Many children (and adults!) feel an uncontrollable urge to fidget and move around. This need for movement is often a distraction to both the child and those around him. Fidget toys allow the child to experience movement without having to actually get up and move around. Playing with a fidget toy provides the tactile stimulation their mind is craving, which can calm their mind, allowing the child to stay on task.
As we all know, being able to stay on task is an important part of school and work. Most school have rules regarding toys at school. However, as more and more teachers see the benefits of using a fidget toy for certain kids, exceptions to the no toy rule are made. A small, simple toy that can be manipulated during story time, group discussions, or whenever concentration and focus is needed, is often just what kids need.
Image: Hairy Tangle at Amazon.com
Many adults also use fidget toys, especially at work while they are on the phone. Adults will often doodle, tap their pen, drum their fingers, and fiddle with papers while talking. It may seem counter-intuitive, but fidgeting keeps the brain active and more focused. Pen tapping and finger drumming may be calming to the perpetrator, but annoying to those around her. A fidget toy, such as a Tangle or squeeze ball, is much quieter, and still provides stress release and helps increase concentration and focuses your brain.
There are many different kinds of fidget toys available. Certain fidgets will work better for some, mainly due to each individuals unique sensory needs. While one child may crave tactile input and need a bumpy fidget to focus, another child may need proprioceptive input and need a hard ball that they can squeeze. You may need to try out various fidget toys to see which works best for your child (or you!).
I highly recommend the following book for any parent or teacher of a child with sensory issues.
This book is geared towards elementary students and is perfect for introducing all students to the reasons why some kids may need special tools to help them cope in the classroom. Both teachers and parents will find this book useful. The book covers a variety of sensory tools, including many discussed here on this lens! There is an excellent resource section at the end of the book that includes terminology, discussion questions (for both home and classroom), and other helpful books and websites to check out for more information and ideas to help your child focus in the classroom.
Does your child seek tactile input?
Fidget toys can help!
If your child craves tactile input, or need to work on tactile defensiveness, then look for fidget toys that have more than just a smooth surface. Many fidget toys have various lumps and bumps to provide extra tactile input. Several fidgets on the market are made with several different materials- plastic, cloth, squishy stuff, etc. These are all great for giving your child that extra sensory input he craves, or for helping your child to adjust to different textures in a safe way.
Most of these toys are small, so your child can take them just about anywhere. Squishy balls are exceptionally good tactile toys. Most are made of a jelly-like material that feels smooth and slightly slimy. Many of these balls have nubs, spikes, and other textures on their surface as well. These balls are called by many names, such as atom, porcupine, pimple and flower balls.
If your child is likely to drop or throw his fidget, you may want to try a fidget toy that has a wrist strap, or, if the child is older, one that is on a necklace. Fidgety sells a hand hand fidget with wrist strap that is perfect for kids that often lose their fidget toys. This fidget fits into the palm of your hand and is made of soft corduroy and fill with non-toxic pellets. It's perfect for times when you don't necessarily want a fun looking toy around to tempt other kids!
Super Worm Sensory Tactile Fidget
Desk Buddy Multi Sensory Bar Fidget
Tactile Tiger Hand Fidget
Squigglets - Bracelets for Tactile Input
I recently picked up a couple Squigglets for my son (yes, even boys like them!). He is a sensory seeker, and needs certain types of input in order to calm himself enough to pay attention during circle time. We were using a squeeze ball for him to play with during circle time (tactile and proprioceptive input), but he began throwing it around...not exactly the calm behavior we were going for.
I went searching for a toy that he could quietly fiddle with, that wouldn't invite throwing or other disruptive behaviors. I found Squigglets! Squigglets often come in balls, which weren't going to work, but then I found the bracelets! These are perfect. They are basically attached to him and he can fiddle away without getting the urge to toss them around.
Older boys may not want to wear a Squigglet bracelet, but then they may be able to handle having a Squigglet ball in their hands without tossing it around. My 6 year old can't quite handle that yet...so the bracelets are great. They come in a variety of bright colors (which he loves), and have that great texture for tactile input.
If you are looking for something for your child to fiddle with that won't cause a ruckus, check out Squigglet bracelets!
Fidget Toys can provide the deep pressure your child seeks
The term proprioceptive may not be one you are familiar with, unless you are in medicine or have a child with a disability, such as sensory processing disorder. Proprioceptive refers to the information your body receives about body position and movement. Children lacking proper proprioceptive responses to their environment are often unfortunately labeled as lazy or trouble-makers.
Depending on whether they are sensory seeker or avoiders, the child may appear to be clumsy, very rough, may have poor posture, may talk loudly and have other problems. These children may give up on playing sports because they can't get their body to do what they want, or they may be kicked off teams for playing too rough. This all has to do with your body's understanding of how to move and it's spatial position.
Proprioceptive seekers are often very disruptive in class. A weighted lap pad, vest, belt, or shoulder wrap may help by providing extra weight to their joints, thus giving their body the deep pressure that they seek. Squeezing a hand exercise ball can also help. Ask your child's teacher to give your child heavy work, like moving the chairs for story time and cleaning up boxes of toys. Doing these tasks with a weighted vest or belt is especially good work! Using proprioceptive fidgets can also help a child who avoids movement by training their muscle how to move.
Abilitations Weighted Lap Animal
Fun and Function's Blue Weighted Vest
My Fav Sensory "Toy" - My son (& I) can't live without it!
My son is a sensory-seeker. He craves most types of input, especially proprioceptive and vestibular. The one "toy" that I've found that provides both types of input, as well as great exercise, is a mini trampoline. Remember how popular these were in the 80's? They're back and they are WONDERFUL!
I actually purchased a larger outdoor trampoline for my son, and then an exercise trampoline for me, figuring that we could both get some exercise. But, because my son's trampoline was too large for the house, we ended up with an indoor and an outdoor trampoline for him. That's ok....both trampolines have been wonderful!
A mini trampoline is small enough to be left up in most rooms, so that your child can access it whenever they feel the need. Ours is in the living room and my son will jump on it while watching TV (I should get another one and do the same!). Jumping provides cardio exercise (great for the body and for wearing out an active child) and proprioceptive input for the major joints in the legs. The surface has enough rebound that you don't have to worry about joint damage.
It's easy for kids to get the sensory input they need playing outside - running, jumping, wrestling, etc - but for rainy days, or days you can't get to the park, or even for those nights that your child wakes up agitated and needs soothing, you need something indoors. Mini trampolines are just one of the easy to store pieces of equipment I would suggest having. I know we can't live without one in our house!
What about Auditory Fidget Toys?
Many children seek out auditory input. You may have a child that listens to musical toys for what seems like hours, that bangs loudly on anything and everything she can find, or that simply screams to hear themselves scream. These children are looking for auditory input, and when they can't find it in their environment, they will create it. Other children are sensitive to sounds, and often have bad reactions to loud noises. Both types of sensory input can be address with auditory fidget toys.
For a child that seeks out sound, being quiet in class is probably torture, and not conducive their own learning. Of course, when they make noise to satisfy their own needs, they disrupt the learning environment of the other children in the class. A classroom isn't the best environment to use an auditory toy in, but your child's teacher may allow your child to use his fidget during certain periods if it helps keep him calm during work time. If this isn't the case, then you may need to give your child another type of fidget toy for the classroom, and allow them a noisy fidget during recess.
Auditory fidgets can be used with sound sensitive kids to help desensitize them. Sound activated and responsive toys encourage kids to speak and/or make appropriate sounds to get the toy to interact with them. The Dragon-i Toys Talking Ben Plush is a cute stuffed animal that is both sound activated and responsive (just like the Talking Bed app for the iPhone/iPad, the plush repeats whatever you say using a silly voice).
Abilitations Squash-It - Auditory Fidget
3M Peltor Junior Earmuff, Black
Wiggly Giggler Rattle
Fidget Toys that provide Oral Sensory Input
Your child doesn't have to chew the dog's toy!
Have you ever caught yourself chewing on your pencil during a stressful time at work? Or do you find that chewing gum helps calm you down? Chewing is another way for people to fidget. It helps distract and calm your brain so that you can concentrate. However, chewing on a lead filled pencil isn't the best idea, and most schools have banned gum from school grounds. Enter the chewable toy.
Chew sticks, chewable pencil toppers, and chewable jewelry are just some of the many fidget toys available for children who need oral input. Most chew toys for kids are textured and some are even flavored, both of which add to the sensory input. There are hundreds of chewy toys available for babies who are teething, but an older child could easily bite and break these. Chewy fidgets are made of heavier material, to withstand hard chewing (though they are generally not as hard as a dog's chew toy- and please don't give your child a dog's chew toy!).
Depending on what your child prefers, you may want to provide several types of chewy fidgets. For instance, in class, your child make work best with a pencil topper he can chomp on during tests and work time. During story time, a chew stick or a chewy attached to a necklace might work best. Fortunately, there are quite a few styles, colors, and flavors on the market, so you are sure to find one your child likes!
Because these toys are designed to be chewed on, the majority are now BPA and phthalate free. These chewy fidgets are also very good for children who have weak oral muscles, or with oral motor-planning problems, such as Apraxia of Speech.
One of my favorites is The Grabber Oral Motor Chew. This oral motor chew is fantastic. It has three different textured surface designed to provide needed sensory input to lips, cheeks, gums, and tongue. The chew is made of FDA approved material and contains no latex. Even with the various surfaces, there are no holes or crevices where bacteria could thrive. If your child needs to chew on things, or if you are trying to transition an orally sensitive child from purÃ©ed to textured food, this motor chew is perfect!
Chew Stixx Oral Chew Tubes
Abilitations ChewEase Chewing Solution
Chewy Tube Combo Pack
Got a wiggler?
Maybe your child needs a fidget toy for vestibular input
Many children need to wiggle. Normally, this isn't much of a problem, but during times like story time, a test, or during quiet reading time in the class, moving around the room or even wiggling at their desk does not work. Children who need vestibular input to concentrate need a way to get the sensation of movement, without disturbing those around them. You can help your child by providing them with a wiggle seat or weighted lap pad to provide the vestibular input they need.
There are quite a few types of wiggle seats available (check out my lens on wiggle seats for more in depth info). Most of these are either wedges or round disks that are usually covered with bumps (bonus tactile input). Simple put one of these wedges or inflatable disks on a child's seat, then have the child sit on it. They can wiggle their bottoms all they want, and it generally will not disturb those around them. For story time, you child may even be allowed to use a Bilibo seat, which would allow them to rock back and forth quietly.
A weighted lap pad does not provide the child with the opportunity to move and wiggle, but the extra weight provides a grounding for many children. The extra weight has a tendency to calm the child and often curbs the need to wiggle. This allows the child to remain still, but still calms the brain and helps with focus and attention. A weighted belt or vest may also be used. All three of these items also provide children with good proprioceptive input.
Lap Pal Weighted Lap Pad
Alex Monkey Balance Board
Spin Disc Sensory Seat
Therapy Tangle by Tangle - The Perfect Fidget Toy for All Ages and All Needs!
Tangles are more than just fidget toys. The movement of the Tangle is calming and almost hypnotic. But that doesn't mean that there isn't some excitement to these toys either!
Tangles now come in a variety of sizes, colors and textures and styles. You can now get the original Tangle, keychain Tangles, Tangles for infants, Dora the Explorer Tangles and more. Some Tangle toys have flashing lights and play calming music. There's even a giant 60" inflatable Tangle your child and roll around in! No matter what your child's sensory needs, a Tangle is the perfect fidget toy!
Fidget Toys on eBay
Check out these eBay auctions for some great deals on fidget toys and other sensory toys.
If you have any comments on these fidget toys, or know of any others that should be included, be sure to post a comment!