If you’re a parent of an elementary school child, there’s a good chance your home will be invaded by “pop-its”, the colorful rubber toys covered with bumps that cause a satisfying pop when they are left. pushed inside or outside.
Although they have been around for years as a sensory tool for children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), wiggle toys like pop-its are have become a general craze over the past year or so, in part because of mini YouTubers fueling their popularity.
Colorful and fun gadgets have really captured children’s imaginations (and parents’ wallets), along with a wide range of toys, spinning tops, and stress balls.
Carlow’s Ruby Graham Roche (9) was an early fan. She was in her element when toys began appearing in stores during the pandemic, as she and her friend Bonnie made their own “stress balls” out of balloons, flour and rice. She even organized her birthday celebrations around the craze when the restrictions were lifted.
On this occasion, her mother, Hazel Graham, took Ruby and a few friends to a toy store and allowed them to pick out their own restless toys. “They had a contest at the end to see which one was more interesting,” says Hazel. “They swap them too, like we used to swap fancy paper.”
In addition to providing her with hours of entertainment, Ruby says pop-it helps calm her down when she experiences a moment of frustration. “I love the feel of rubber and their sound, and they’re satisfying to pop,” she says.
Although Ruby has no additional needs, she attends an Educate Together school where classes include children with needs, and Hazel enjoys her teaching all children to engage and build relationships with each other. others.
“I like that Fidget toys are more common these days and that everyone can use them,” says Hazel. “I even find them quite relaxing as an adult. One day I called a co-worker and could hear she was doing one.
There is a great social element to Ruby’s enjoyment of toys, as pop-its can be played like a game with other people. Hazel, her partner Stephen and Ruby regularly hold competitions to see who’s the fastest to pop bubbles.
“Mom and I usually win because Stephen is so bad at gambling,” laughs Ruby, adding that her father Gary loves them too, but is probably not as enthralled as his daughter.
Whether used as a game, toy, or a calming way to calm down, restless toys can help children focus, listen, and enhance their learning.
Occupational therapist Dana Katz Murphy believes they are valuable tools for the development of fine motor skills, helping children receive some of the sensory inputs their nervous systems need to stay engaged in a learning environment.
“They can also help relieve stress and anxiety,” she says. “The rhythmic, repetitive and predictable movements are calming for the nervous system, and the resistance movements are also calming.
“These movements can redirect nerve energy and lead to organization of sensory systems, slower breathing and increased feelings of calm.”
Dana is Head of Clinical Services at the Irish non-profit organization Sensational Kids (sensationalkids.fr), making early intervention services affordable and accessible to children with additional needs.
“Agitation is a sensorimotor regulatory strategy that we all use to help us stay alert and engaged,” she says. “Some of us can play with our fingers, rub our hands, twirl our hair, stamp our feet or bite a pen.
“These strategies draw on our tactile system and our proprioceptive system [muscles and joints] and help us focus our attention, calm down or stay alert.
Tactile sensory toys can help release restless energy, and the craze has even led to Smyths Toys with a restless toy advent calendar in its Christmas offering this year.
It will probably appeal to Saorlaith Ní Chathail (11) who is a big fan of gadgets. “I like them because they come in different shapes and sizes, and there are big ones and small ones and noisier and quieter ones,” she says. “They help the kids focus on their work, and if they’re not too loud, my teacher allows them in class.”
Saorlaith doesn’t have any additional needs, but UCC lecturer Laura Crowley sees a better understanding of the need for children to move while learning, as it helps stimulate their neurosystems and helps them focus.
“Children are never born to sit in a classroom,” she says. “We are seeing a movement in the way we enable children to learn and develop, even in the mainstream system, and we recognize that children are meant to be seen and heard and have the right and the need to move.
“Movements can provide a very immediate source of movement that does not obstruct someone else’s space or interfere with their concentration.”
Laura works in Autism Services in Cork and runs Connect Autism Consultancy. She herself is autistic and says objects have always been used as restless toys, even when that wasn’t their purpose. For example, she liked to move toppers and pencil handles back and forth, and trim pencils as a child, but finds that today’s hectic toys do nothing for her.
“The sensory system in people with autism is more sensitive in many ways and sub-sensitive in others, and everyone you meet will be different,” she says. “For example, I need to move constantly, but I do it very quietly, so I’m going to tap my feet or rub them together or move my rings on my fingers.”
Dana Katz Murphy says the type of toy a child uses will be specific to their needs, and not all toys will work for all children. While some prefer more resistance, i.e. squeezing putty or stress balls, others prefer more repetitive motions, like clicking a pen, popping bubbles, or twisting a rubber band.
According to Laura, individuals on the spectrum are more prone to anxiety because they live in a neurotypical world that really wasn’t built for them, which makes it a much more confusing place. Does she think the pandemic has caused an increase in anxiety levels in children in general?
“We know that about eight percent of children will suffer from some kind of anxiety disorder at some point in their lives, which is pretty high,” she says. “I think now we are looking at much higher percentages due to the uncertainty and restrictions posed by lockdowns and the pandemic, and the added fear of the death of loved ones. “
Laura thinks parents don’t have to worry about kids spending so much time playing with restless toys because they help develop fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, and even memory skills.
This is good news for Saorlaith’s mother, former Senator Máiría Cahill, who jokes that her house is overrun with toys. “I’m more worried that they are slowly taking over my house,” she laughs. “They’re everywhere and I even broke my toe tripping over a bag last week!” “