Spinning out: A look at the issues surrounding fidget toys

With every new craze that hits playgrounds the debate will begin anew – should toys be allowed inside school grounds?

The easy answer is no – they provide a distraction and worse yet, can create arguments and jealousy amongst the students. However, things become a little more tricky when the toys in question can provide a genuine help to children that suffer with disorders and disabilities.

The flavour of the month this time is fidget toys. Following the Kickstarter success story the Fidget cube, spinners allow kids to relieve stress and feel grounded in any situation. Supposedly devised by a mother to help her kids to relieve stress (this point has been contested), the pocket-money product has gone down a hit with people who suffer from ADHD, Autism and Anxiety, allowing people with issues such as this to distract themselves from uncomfortable situations with the aesthetically pleasing motion.

The National Autism Society has made a statement in favour of the toys, stating that schools should consider allowing spinners and the like in certain cases.

“Autism can affect each child differently, which is why it is so important that schools put the right support in place for each individual,” reads a statement from Carol Povey, director of the centre of Autism at the National Autistic Society.

“It is vital that schools develop a proper understanding about autistic pupils so their specific sensory needs can be met,” adds Povey. “We therefore hope allowances are made for particular children if they find that a fidget spinner or similar toy helps them concentrate, relax and learn.”

However, much to the chagrin of those that find the spinners genuinely helpful, the trend has now caught on with kids everywhere meaning that many schools were left with no choice but to ban the toys.

Toymaker Grossmans has enjoyed tremendous success with their range of spinners but presents a reasoned approach to the issue of schoolyard bans.

“It is a concern for each individual school,” commented Martin Grossman, MD of the firm. “I think spinners should be encouraged as they help focus and are good for concentration – but the bans have not harmed the business in any way.”

Another reason spinners have courted controversy is the questionable safety of the ball bearing that form the basis of the product. Many have argued that this largely stems from disreputable suppliers selling sub-standard products via sites like unregulated Ebay.

“Concerns over the safety of spinners are completely valid. There should be stricter controls at customs and through Trading Standards although they have been quick to respond to complaints,” adds Grossman. “It’s the bootleggers that are to blame for it. They are selling sub standard bearings and dodgy product. Our spinners are totally safe, of good quality and come in a great variety of designs.”

A quick Google search will turn up a run of schools that have come under criticism for placing a ban on the ubiquitous plaything. One such school is Churchill Academy near Congresbury who issued a statement to parents after a pupil penned an eloquent letter lamenting the latest trend, labelling them as a distraction to the entire class.

“If students try to claim it helps them concentrate, they are wrong,” read a statement to parents from the school’s headmaster Chris Hildrew. “Their use of a fidget spinner is not only distracting them, it is distracting others too. If students have specific concentration issues they need to be referred to a specialist for a full diagnosis and then appropriate strategies will be agreed with the individual.”

The school declined to comment further on whether their policy towards fidget toys.

A more logistical issue that has hit toymakers hoping to capitalise on the trend is the difficulty in procuring the most essential component of the product: the ball-bearing that allows the axis to spin so smoothly.

Iain Morgan, CEO of Bladez Toys, a firm with their own line of licensed fidget spinners explained that with increased demand, problems are emerging with the production of the toys.

"The wave of generic spinners on the market caused a flood of inferior products from various factories and assembly factories," explained Morgan. "Due to the high level of demand, this resulted in a shortage of bearings and we were finding that market testing of some products was showing how the quality was varying greatly. Some bearings were rusty, others recycled and some spinners even had a limited spin time of less than 30 seconds which was poor. Our spinners have a 2 minute spin time and will help drive the playground appeal even more."

Bladez own line of fidget toys includes items with Barbie and Hot Wheels brading, thanks to a partnership with Mattel. Morgan went on to explain the success of spinners with kids across the world.

"The fidget trend has happened and been driven by children rather than toy companies," added Morgan. "Speaking to our international customers, we have the view that this trend will continue but with a higher quality and more varied product range compared to the lower grade items seen on the market so far. The category of fidget toy has been around for a while but can now stand on its own as a more robust category. Equally, it can now fit within the pocket money sector."

With new variations on the fidget toy hitting the market, including stackable spinners and even fidget apps, the trend shows no signs of slowing down just yet. Expect the debate to spin on… at least until the summer holidays. 

About Robert Hutchins

Robert Hutchins is the editor of Licensing.biz and ToyNews. Hutchins has worked his way up from Staff Writer to the position of Editor across the two titles, having spent almost eight years with both ToyNews and Licensing.biz, and what now seems like a lifetime surrounded by toys. You can contact him by emailing robert.hutchins@biz-media.co.uk or calling him on 0203 143 8780 You can even follow him on Twitter @RobGHutchins if ranting is your thing...

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