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ADHD focus

Fidgeting and Executive Function

Students love to fidget, right? From fidget spinners to Rubik’s cubes to doodling, there is almost an entire industry dedicated to keeping students’ hands busy. But fidgeting is more than that; fidgeting might also help support executive function.

Students love to fidget, right? From fidget spinners to Rubik’s cubes to doodling, there is almost an entire industry dedicated to keeping students’ hands busy. But fidgeting is more than that; fidgeting might also help support executive function.

Fidgeting and the Brain

A recent study, led by Justin Fernandez at Auckland Bioengineering Institute (ABI), is reinforcing the benefits of fidgeting. While the study looked at the brains of people with ADHD specifically, these findings have important implications for acknowledging how students actually learn, especially when it comes to executive function.

The study found that, when the subjects were allowed to fidget, the blood flow to the prefrontal cortex increased. The prefrontal cortex is the seat of your brain’s executive function processes. We all know that executive function is essential for successful learning, so the importance of fidgeting must be recognized.

Viewed in this light, fidgeting deserves another look. Seeing students doodling or tapping away with their pencil is often interpreted as being off task. However, if fidgeting is a way to power up the brain, then perhaps fidgeting is adaptive, a part of the problem-solving process.

Fidgets for All

While many students with ADHD have access to fidgets in their 504 plans, all students can benefit from well-timed fidgeting. The need to fidget is universal, especially during remote or hybrid learning. From a movement break or a quick doodle to fidget toys like the Fidgi Pen, there are many ways to let your students fidget. (Does note-taking count as a fidget? We like to think so.)

Use Fidgets Productively

Of course, a fidget free-for-all can be pretty distracting (some teachers might still have a few confiscated fidget spinners in their desk drawer). Take time to teach students how to use fidgets productively. Talk about the best time to fidget or what kinds of activities are less distracting to others. Help students see fidgeting as a productive step in completing their work instead of something to hide when the teacher looks your way.

  • Michael Greschler, M.Ed., SMARTS Director

SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum: smarts-ef.org

Research Institute for Learning and Development: researchild.org

The Institute for Learning and Development: ildlex.org

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