One of the benefits of homeschooling a child with ADHD is that you have an almost unlimited amount of freedom to experiment with and utilize the many therapeutic tools that are out there to help such children maintain their concentration on the task at hand.
Fidgets are one of the tools that have been shown to be successful in helping ADHD children maintain focus when they’re doing mentally intense work. If you’re not familiar with them, fidgets are little toys or gadgets that provide children with attention disorders stimulation (tactile, oral, or gross motor, or a combination thereof) and/or an outlet for their excess energy during seat-work. Some fidgets are small, either handheld or for the desktop to keep hands busy while the child is thinking, writing or calculating. Others are larger and provide different types of stimulation and feedback over the whole body, like weighted or vibrating materials; or furniture that allows the child to move more freely than your average desk set-up, like swings, balance boards, mini-trampolines or exercise balls to sit on.
There are some stores/websites that sell fidgets and sensory materials, like the Therapy Shoppe (which separates their fidgets into categories like alert fidgets, calming fidgets, silent fidgets, and tactile fidgets), Fat Brain Toys, Sensory University, and Sensory Edge, and these are great if you can afford them.
But when homeschooling, you’re often on a budget and even inexpensive fidgets can seem out of reach when you’re not sure what things your child might like. Since I can relate to that, I thought I’d put together a list of fidgets that are easily ‘found’ or made at home.
Starting with small fidgets:
- spring/spiral (plastic, taken from an old spiral bound book or notebook and cut into pieces. Those spiral shoelaces also work well as a fidget.)
- Lego tree (round, though I’m sure the conical ones would work just as well – lovely for palming and twiddling)
- velcro dots (sticky-backed ones can be applied to the underside of the desk)
- clothespins (alone or can be used with clip-ins like a bundle of rubber bands, a few bent chenille sticks, yarn or other something to make a ‘brush’)
- soft bristled paintbrushes or jumbo makeup brushes (feel nice on cheeks, over eyes and lips)
- skinny balloons (stretchy and can go onto fingers – but don’t let them chew on them!)
- foam stress ball (often given out free at conferences, fairs, doctor’s offices, the mall…)
- filled stress ball (the dollar store often has squeeze balls; there’s one called a ‘blob ball’ with a net outside that lets the inner part bulge out of that is both disgusting and fascinating; or you can make them from big latex party balloons filled with sand, moon sand, powder, modeling clay, rice, beans, poly pellets, or a combination of things for long-term use (can double balloon and tie for a little extra protection). If you’re looking for other textures, you can fill them with peanut butter, pudding, tapioca, jell-o, etc (but these are, for obvious reasons, disposable after a day or two).
- worry stones made from polymer clay (or air-dry glue/cornstarch clay, also called ‘cold porcelain clay’) or rocks
- aluminum discs (made from the bottoms of coke cans – Use tin snips to cut the rounded bottoms of a coke can out, then put them together, convex sides out and seal the edges by gluing and then burnishing, or with tape on the outside. Use sandpaper to smooth and finish the edges. It makes a lovely palm-sized convex disc that feels good in your hand.)
- butterfly/triangle paper clips (can put several together on a binder ring)
- a long bolt with a rubber band on the open end and loose nut to twist up and down (metal or you can find plastic ones in the plumbing section of the hardware store)
- put a rubber band on a pencil, slide on some metal hex-nuts towards the top end and add another rubber band. The pencil is weighted and the nuts are twistable. Also works on crayons and markers)
- mini rain stick (toilet paper tube or even smaller diameter cardboard tube, nails and rice/beans and masking tape)
- egg shaker (re-use those old plastic Easter eggs – fill with rice, beans, poly beads, BB’s or anything similar and seal with tape. You can papier-mache for extra security)
- bean bag (scrap material and dry beans/lentils/rice/poly pellets)
- poly pellet (single to roll between index finger and thumb)
- teethers (especially gel-filled ones and ones with ‘nubbies’ on them; Sophie the giraffe is fun to chew on as well)
- rubber bands (tie a bunch together, then snip all but one of the loops to make a ‘koosh’ type ball
- tape measure with a button re-winder
- Rubik’s cube
For larger stimulation, we have used:
- weighted lap blanket (I made them from a fat quarter of fabric and filled with poly pellets from the craft store)
- noise cancelling earphones
- foam ear plugs
- vibrating neck pillow
- yoga ball
- rolling pin on the floor (under desk, for feet)
- balance board (can be made from a 24″ long piece of 1″x 6″ scrap board with a 1″x 1″ half round piece of molding nailed to the underside. Sand the edges and let your child paint and decorate it. The child stands with feet on the outer edges and balances the board up on the round.)
- weighted hula hoop (can be made by cutting open a regular hula hoop and adding steel ball bearings and taping back together)
- sensory steps (in our version, I made a couple of sheets of 8.5 x 14 paper with eight 4″x3″ squares of sensory material – just enough to ‘toe’ and small enough to fit under the best. Ours include sandpaper, lentils, elbow macaroni, faux-fur fabric, shredded plastic, rubber bands, toothpicks, crinkled aluminum foil, yarn, Easter grass, egg shells, lego bricks, shredded newspaper, terry cloth, and pantyhose.
- rice sock (tube sock filled with rice; can be knotted every few inches to provide more even distribution and/or a different ‘feel’; also can be filled with lavender or other herbs and rice, and heated to make a warm aromatherapy weight)
- meditation/mind jar
- 2lb hand weights (also works to roll with feet on the floor)
- yoga block (for feet to manipulate)
- weighted tube (a paper towel tube with a spent D cell battery in it. Close both ends of the tube with cotton balls (for cushion) and tape. Tilt back and forth gently to let the battery slide from one end to the other. It has a nice ‘thunk’ to it.)
- sensory tubs (usually used for younger kids, but are very useful for older kids with SPD)
- sensory bottle /science bottles
- sound therapy: white noise; thunderstorm; fireplace/thunderstorm are all amazing and vary in length.
- alpha wave sound therapy on low volume over headphones. You can record this video/sound, then put it on an ipod and loop it for however long you need it for. Once is almost 10 minutes. Any sound therapy we use with headphones for maximum effect.
We use or have used most of these (not all at once, obviously). Different things seem to work at different times, and I’ve noticed that even my younger son (who is not ADHD) seems to focus better when allowed an outlet, so even though these types of tools and activities are ‘for’ kids with attention or sensory issues, they can definitely be of use to children without them as well.
What are some of your cheap/handmade sensory tools?