They came out of nowhere, and they're already so hot that schools are banning them. We're talking about fidget spinners, the biggest gadget trend of 2017. These decidedly low-tech devices have become a must-have for kids, to the point where they're an even more popular topic than Donald Trump.Credit: Peralng
"Fidget spinners and other fidget toys are huge right now, said Adrienne Appell, director of strategic communications for the Toy Association. "They are part of the collectible trend we named at this year's Toy Fair in February.”
But what the heck are fidget spinners, how do they work, and where can you get them? And should you let your kids use them given some concerns around their safety?
What are fidget spinners, and why are they so popular?
Simply put, fidget spinners are the latest craze that might actually benefit you and your child.
The spinners are simple (and cheap) gadgets that spin in your hand. They come with an inline skate and ball bearings, and can spin for 2 minutes or more while you're working, hanging out with friends or trying to relax.
"Kids and adults love them because they allow for quick play and are inexpensive, portable and fun," said Appell.
Fidget spinners have become so popular that many factories in China that usually focus on smartphone cases and accessories have switched over to fidget spinners full time, according to a report in Motherboard.
In addition, a quick check on Amazon reveals that 17 out of the top 20 top-selling products on Amazon under Toys & Games is a fidget spinner.
There are dozens of YouTube videos showing cool fidget spinner tricks people can try, and some of the clips have millions of views. One from Incredible Science shows you how to do things like keep the gadget spinning as you toss it from one hand to the other, balance it on a pencil and more.
Companies who make these gadgets say the toys can relieve stress and anxiety and can replace the fidgets a person might have throughout the day.
How do they work, and where did they come from?
Fidget spinners are about as simple as can be. Inside the three-spoke gadget is an area you hold with a finger and thumb. Then, with another finger, you flick one of the spokes and let the spinner spin.
Depending on the version you get, the fidget spinner could keep spinning for a few minutes in your hand. Fidget spinners can also be placed on a table to spin away.
According to the New York Post, fidget spinners were invented by Catherine Hettinger, who showed her invention to Hasbro way back in 1997. Her patent expired in 2005. However, Bloomberg has shot down that report, saying that her invention has little resemblance to the toys that are so hot today.
Where can you buy fidget spinners, and how much do they cost?
In general, you can find fidget spinners at your local toy store. Big-name retailers, like Walmart, carry fidget spinners, as does 7-Eleven. However, because of their popularity, the toys can be hard to find on store shelves.
Online, Amazon offers the biggest selection of fidget spinners. To help you get the right one, we went through Amazon's selection and selected the best fidget spinners by looking at two factors. The toy needed a user rating of 3.5 stars or above, and the user reviews needed a grade of B or higher on Fakespot, which looks at the language of user reviews to determine whether they're fake.
Generally, you can find a fidget spinner for just a few bucks. One of the better-selling spinners at Amazon comes from POAO and sells for $9. A budget-friendly YIA fidget spinner goes for $5.88.
If you want something a bit nicer, Peralng's fidget spinner has a gold design and costs $17.99 at Walmart. A stainless steel model from the company goes for $19.99.
What's the difference between one brand and another?
Fidget spinner makers aren't necessarily all that different. After all, they're making devices that have much the same functionality and the same, basic frame.
The main differences among the vendors come in their choice of materials. Some companies use a simple plastic version that will be on the cheaper side but still allow you to spin to your heart's content. Others, like Peralang, offer higher-quality materials like stainless steel that will push the price up, but according to the company, deliver an overall better experience.
Additionally, vendors try to differentiate themselves based on the amount of time their fidget spinners will actually spin. Some of the companies who sell higher-end fidget spinners claim that their models will spin for longer than cheaper versions. But we can't say for sure whether that's the case.
If you're in a store and can try it out, you should definitely look for options that spin for at least a couple of minutes at a time.
Credit: Finger SpinnerFinally, there's design. Not all fidget spinners come with a basic, round, three-spoke design. Peralng, for instance, sells a spinner that looks like a ninja star. YIPA offers one with two spokes instead of three. And although many of the fidget spinners look the same, some have different paint jobs.
Are fidget spinners safe?
It's worth noting that fidget spinners are weighted on the ends and a bit heavier than you might expect. So when they're whipping around, the toys could actually cause a bruise or, depending on where they hit someone, draw blood.
"One thing we do want to point out is that, with any toy, families should check the age grading on the packaging and make sure it matches the age of the child playing with the product," Appell said.
Additionally, a Texas mother spoke out against fidget spinners recently, after the fidget spinner she bought her 10-year-old daughter broke. Her daughter accidentally swallowed the piece that broke off when she put it in her mouth to try to clean it. She rushed her daughter to the hospital, and she was ultimately put under anesthesia to have the bearing she swallowed removed from her esophagus, according to a Marketwatch report.
A separate report out of Michigan's MLive says a 3-year-old also swallowed part of a fidget spinner. The child swallowed the gadget and an x-ray published online shows the part in the child's stomach.
Choking isn't the only possible hazard. As Buzzfeed has reported, parents have taken to social media to warn others about possible dangers. In another case, a boy got a bearing stuck on his finger, which had to be cut off at the hospital.
Fidget Spinners vs. Fidget Cubes
While fidget spinners are all the rage, they're flanked by similarly popular devices called fidget cubes.
The fidget cube was designed initially by a small startup called Antsy Labs. It's a tiny cube that has sensory tools on every side, including an on-off switch, gears, a joystick, buttons, rubbing pad, and rolling ball. It's small enough to hold in one hand.
Like fidget spinners, these gadgets are designed to keep your mind focused and off some of those other habits you're trying to kick.
Like fidget spinners, it didn't take long for fidget cubes to take off. In fact, when Antsy Labs put the fidget cube on Kickstarter last summer, it became one of the most-backed campaigns ever launched on the service, raising nearly $6.5 million. Antsy Labs had hoped to raise just $15,000 for the project.
In its pitch to potential backers, Antsy Labs argued that fidget cubes could do everything pens, pencils, worry stones, key rings, and ice cubes could do, but better. It noted that fidget cubes can be clicked, rolled, relieve anxiety, spin, and more.
However, if the Antsy Labs fidget cube isn't for you, there are a slew of alternatives available on Amazon and elsewhere. And while many of those fidget cubes are designed to be cubes, others have different shapes. And they all come with different functions, so you can decide which activities you want to engage in while you're playing with your fidget cube.
The Antsy Labs fidget cubes are notably more expensive than fidget spinners. While you can get your hands on a fidget spinner for a few bucks, if you want the company's fidget cube, you'll need to dole out $22 to Antsy Labs. When you do so, you'll be able to choose from a range of colors, including white, black, pink, and blue.
If you're not so excited about paying so much for a fidget cube, you can browse Amazon, where you'll find alternatives that cost much less. As of this writing, there are some fidget cubes available for just a few bucks on Amazon, like the Oliasports fidget cube. Other, more sophisticated models, like the iProudAmerican fidget cube, will cost you more.
Better yet, most of the fidget cubes on Amazon will ship immediately. If you place your order today for an Antsy Labs fidget cube, it likely won't ship to you for one to two weeks.
Do fidget spinners really help ADHD?
The companies that make fidget spinner say their products unequivocally address ADHD. The makers say that fidget spinners can captivate a person's attention and get them to focus better on one thing at a time.
However, so far, there has been no scientific research or data to support that claim. It's also unknown whether fidget spinner makers are actually planning to fund clinical research to find out how these products affect those who have anxiety or ADHD.
According to a report from our sister site, Live Science, the claims that fidget spinners can help ADHD seem overblown. While there is evidence that gross motor activities can help with attention, there are no studies available yet on fine motor skills like this.
Fidget spinners go digital with apps
If you're worried about your kids becoming obsessed with their fidget spinners, you should know that they're also popular on smartphones.
A new app from software developer Ketchapp Games called Finger Spinner brings a fidget spinner to your smartphone screen. The game lets you swipe across the screen to spin your fidget spinner and, along the way, you can unlock rewards and new spinners.
As of this writing, Finger Spinner is the most popular free app in Apple's App Store.
Why are schools banning fidget spinners?
Although fidget spinners might help kids in some ways, the gadgets have also become a must-have for just about any school-age child. And in some classes, the toys have proven distracting. Many schools in the U.S. have requested kids keep their spinners at home.
According to one report in the Chicago Tribune, educators are finding the devices to be a major nuisance. "Frankly, we've found the fidgets were having the opposite effect of what they advertise," Kate Ellison, principal of Washington Elementary School in Evanston, told the Tribune. "Kids are trading them or spinning them instead of writing."
In this case, the school banned fidget spinners both in class and at recess.
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