Getting kids to do their homework can sometimes seem like pulling teeth. Getting neurodiverse kiddos to do their homework is more like trying to sprint up Mt. Everest. Yes, setting up a designated homework station can help. So can setting limits on non-learning screen time, and postponing their first cell phone for as long as possible. And making sure your kiddos get solid nutrition and exercise – you’ve heard it all before, I know.
But even with all these supports in place, some kids – especially those with a form of ADD/ADHD, those on the autism spectrum, or both, can still barely focus on schoolwork, whether during the school day or after a long day of school.
I have one child who’s definitely like that, and another who also needs a little extra mental stimulation sometimes to Just. Get. It. Done. already!
If you know what I’m talking about, you may have already discovered some of these hacks on your own. For those who haven’t – or who want to add some more tools to your family’s toolbox – here are what our family considers the Best Fidgets to Help Kids Stay Focused With Schoolwork.
I received a free Hoglet mouse and two free Hoglet mini keychains in exchange for our family’s honest review of them. However, all opinions in this post are solely those of me and my children. Also, please know I stand behind everything written here, and only include links to products/services/resources I’m willing to recommend personally.
The BEST Fidgets To Help Kids Stay Focused With Schoolwork:
Yes, hairties! I’m talking the larger kind that can easily fit on one’s wrist, like a bracelet. Which also come in spiral varieties now, which our family does NOT like using for hair but DOES like as fidget bracelets.
I’ve seen and heard of plenty of elementary-school classrooms where “fidget toys” – spinners, pop-its, etc. are not allowed. (And this is sometimes a top-down decision beyond the teacher’s control. I was substitute-teaching at Essie’s school a few months back, in a first-grade classroom where one child just. could. not. sit. still., so I gave the child a colored strip of paper to play with – and was floored when, a half-hour later, the principal and guidance counselor came in for a “special lesson” with the students, and the first thing they did was confiscate the child’s strip of paper!)
This is one reason hairties-worn-as-bracelets make the perfect fidget for school settings. All the child has to do is keep it on their wrist, where it’s always available for playing with – discreetly under one’s desk, if needed. My Neurotypical Child (who still appreciates a good fidget) especially likes using a hairtie-as-bracelet on her school’s standardized testing days, where NOTHING is allowed on one’s desk except for test papers and pencils.
Just having something to fidget with is a great way to calm down and reduce anxiety, and much less self-destructive than nail-biting or skin-picking, which even neurotypicals (she guiltily raises her hand) can succumb to when they’re stressed or bored.
I’ve written elsewhere about how fidget snakes are the easiest DIY fidget toy I’ve come across. Not only can you and your child have fun making them, but they’re portable, packable, and can work multiple ways to keep kids’ fingers busy and minds focused.
RELATED POST: The Best DIY Fidget Toys (Easy to Make!)
All you need to make your very own fidget snakes is some pony beads and some string or gimp cord; a keychain ring or lobster-claw clip will make it easier for you to attach your finished snake to something, like a backpack or purse.
As soon as we discovered these fidget toys several summers ago, I began to bring my own – or make sure each kiddo had one – wherever we went. Words cannot express how wonderful it is to have a child who usually can’t sit still and be quiet in public settings where this is expected (e.g., worship services), who is suddenly able to do so for the first time in her entire life, thanks to having something so simple to play with.
If that’s what a fidget snake can accomplish when there’s no schoolwork involved, imagine what would happen if your child had one to play with while trying to sit quietly and focus on homework!
Weighted blankets and vests
I admit that extra weight probably isn’t what most people would call a “fidget.” BUT since many weighted blankets come with textured covers that are fun to play with and calming to touch, I’d argue that these can count as a type of “fidget” to help get schoolwork done.
Unless your child has an IEP or 504, they probably don’t have access to such things as weighted vests or weighted blankets at school. But that doesn’t mean you can’t get them one or the other (or both!) to use at home with homework.
I’ve written elsewhere about our family’s review of weighted blankets (both Neurodiverse Daughter AND Neurotypical Daughter give them two thumbs up). The extra weight and pressure that these items place on the body works to stimulate deep pressure sensors – in essence, having one on top of you is like getting a big bear hug that never stops. Kids with diagnoses of ADD, ADHD, ASD, and/or SPD often find that this extra pressure has a calming effect.
Thus I’m not surprised that Neurodiverse Daughter will sometimes come straight home from school, drag her weighted blanket downstairs, and curl up under it before starting her homework. But even Neurotypical Daughter does this on chilly days.
If your child benefits from using a weighted blanket at home, there are also lap-sized versions available; it could be worth checking to see if their school would allow your child access to one there, if it would help them stay calm and focused on schoolwork in class.
Chair bands are another great tool that both neurodiverse learners and neurotypical ones can enjoy. Looping a strong band of elastic around a child’s front two chair legs, or the front two legs of their desk, gives their feet something to fidget with. This allows kiddos to burn off excess energy discreetly, under their desk, which can help them focus better on the task at hand.
Chair bands have come down a lot in cost over recent years; you can now buy a multi-pack for the cost of one earlier version. But there’s an even better way to hack the cost of these handy devices: if you have any old exercise bands lying around the house (e.g., from physical therapy or a short-lived New Year’s Resolution), these work just fine.
Having been through physical therapy many times before in my life, I bring my old Thera-Bands with me to my Christian Formation classroom at church. My students (both those with ADHD and those without) LOVE playing with them during class, and having a way to burn off some energy with their feet definitely helps them stay more focused!
“Bubble-butts” and balance balls
Balance balls work the same way chair bands do: they work certain muscles (thereby creating an outlet for energy) so that the user can stay more focused on schoolwork. Exercise is one of the best non-medication interventions to help students with ADHD improve focus, and using balance balls gives students an opportunity to more their muscles while working on schoolwork.
Teachers who’ve tried balance balls (also called stability balls or exercise balls) in their classrooms report students are more focused, as do the students themselves. Besides balancing on them, which helps improve strength in one’s core muscles, students can also subtly bounce up and down on balance balls for exercise stimulation.
Balance cushions, or what we call “bubble-butts” in our household, also help improve focus by providing an opportunity to exercise core muscles. But the different textures on these inflatable cushions also provide an extra level of sensory stimulation that students with ADHD and ASD find helpful in focusing.
People with ADD/ADHD, ASD, or both often process sensory input – the information our bodies take in through sight, sound, taste, smell, and touch – differently than people without these conditions. Having a source of sensory input to focus on, whether the hard nubs on one side of the cushion or the softer bumps on the other side, can help to “wake up” a kiddo’s senses and their brain more generally. This can help students reduce stress, stay more alert, and be better able to focus on schoolwork without being distracted by all the other outside stimuli around them.
We’ve used all the tools above in our household for years. But we recently discovered a new set of tools to help our ASD/ADD child stay on track with her homework: an innovative computer mouse called the Hoglet, and a matching Hoglet keychain, both by the company HedgeHog Health.
Developed by clinical experts as well as people on the spectrum/with ADHD, the Hoglet mouse is a high-quality Bluetooth computer mouse covered with a removable, washable silicone cover.
The cover looks like a brightly-covered silicone “hedgehog,” with nubby spines similar to what you’d find on the spiky side of a balance cushion. They come in watermelon pink, bright blue, purple, lime green, and golden yellow.
While the keychains currently only come in blue, they are sold as a two-pack, as well as in a bundle with the mouse.
Both my kiddos were immediately in love with their new sensory tools. Essie had a great deal of fun playing with her keychain – “it’s SPINY!” – and couldn’t wait to try Kimmie’s mouse.
Which was a challenge, since all Kimmie wanted to do at first was hold her mouse – that’s how much she appreciated the sensory experience of touching the spines. (I still see her holding it on a semi-regular basis, even when she’s not using her computer.)
Kimmie didn’t have any homework on the day I gave them their new Hoglet sensory tools, so she didn’t have schoolwork to test it on.
But I asked her to give it a try anyway, and see whether it improved her ability to focus. Her reply? “Well, it helped me stay focused on Minecraft earlier, instead of trying to play Minecraft AND look at memes AND watch YouTube all at once.”
I realize this may sound silly to those whose offspring don’t have ADD/ADHD. But for a child who can barely stay focused on ANYTHING after a long school day, this is huge.
Hoglets as versatile fidgets for kids
When I checked in with Kimmie again a few days later to ask if she had additional thoughts about her new Hoglet mouse, she added, “One thing I like is that the little spines are strong enough to support my hand, but if I press down hard enough, my hand just sinks in.” The fact that she can vary her sensory experience with this tool, depending on what she needs at the moment, is an unexpected bonus that I as a parent didn’t anticipate.
In the month-plus that my kiddos have been testing their Hoglet and Hoglet Mini keychains, I’ve noticed that Kimmie can indeed stay more focused on the task at hand when she’s using her Hoglet mouse at home. And Essie’s keychain goes everywhere with her, in the pocket of her hoodie, where she can touch it whenever she wants.
I’ve also seen Kimmie removing the cover from her mouse on more than one occasion and just playing with it, whether stroking the spines or squishing it shut in her hands. She definitely seems to appreciate its flexibility to be a fidget/stim tool beyond when she’s just doing computer work.
Do you have neurodiverse kiddos who struggle to stay focused on their schoolwork? What tools have you and/or their teachers tried to help them stay mentally engaged? Any favorite fidgets I missed here? Let us know in the comments!
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Direct quote from a real human who has really seen and held and used the mouse: “sPINY”