Local Schools Dizzied by Fidget Spinner Craze

Toys make their appearance in classrooms across county during final weeks of school


A selection of spinners sold at a stand on Bethesda Row.

Bethany Rodgers

Several weeks ago during recess, 11-year-old Dean Farber witnessed a “horde” of children clustering around one central point, as if wound around the spinning toy that they were straining to see. 

The palm-sized device that had made its debut at Norwood School in Bethesda was simple: Three weighted arms that turned around a circular axis. And many of the children immediately knew they wanted one, Dean said.

Dean of Bethesda now owns two of the so-called “fidget spinners,” which typically cost less than $10 apiece, and earns some extra cash selling others on eBay.

“Watching it spin is really satisfying. I just like the designs, and other kids think it’s calming or relaxing,” he said.

But the metal or plastic devices designed to help the user focus often have the opposite effect inside a classroom. Fox Business Network reported in May that an estimated 200 million spinners have shipped out to retailers since the trend caught on earlier this year, and while some reports say the craze is on the wane, teachers have had to deal with the toys’ sudden appearance on the fingertips of students far and wide. 

Schools across the United States and even in the United Kingdom have banned the toys, calling them nuisances. Stories about students who distract their classes with tricks, like trying to balance the spinners on their noses or throwing them up in the air and catching them, have fueled the grown-ups’ annoyance.

Jennifer Baker, principal at Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda, sent out an email in May imploring parents to encourage their children to stash the spinners at home.

“These toys are incredibly distracting and disruptive in class,” she wrote.

Baker said teachers haven’t had any huge clashes with students over the devices and no students have ended up in her office over them. However, a staff member did ask her to send a message about them because they can be somewhat noisy, and the fast-spinning motion catches the eye of other students. 

Cell phones presented a similar dilemma when they first started making their way into classrooms, Baker said, but she can’t recall another toy that has grown as popular and comes with such potential for disruption.

The Walt Whitman High School student newspaper recently ran an article about how some students find that playing with the spinners calms them or offers relief from their attention-deficit disorders. One sophomore said a similar device, called a fidget cube, helped him focus on his schoolwork.

“If I’m doing the buttons on the cube and I keep pushing them, and I have my math in front of me, I’m able to have my mind completely focused on that because my body is busy with the cube,” Andrew Goldsholle told the Black and White.

Still, experts are skeptical that the spinners are actually effective for easing anxiety or ADHD symptoms.

Farber keeps his spiky, black-and-white spinner at home because he agrees it’s distracting, but said teachers at his private school have been using different approaches to the gadgets.

While one teacher banned them, “another teacher would think it’s cool and ask if he could try and spin it,” Farber said.

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