Fidget toys have become all the rage in recent years. From occupational therapy offices, to classrooms, to work meetings, these items have spread like wildfire for their usefulness in keeping busy hands and minds focused, as well as for the simple fact that they’re just plain fun. But what exactly makes one fidget toy better than another? And what kinds of things do we need to know prior to purchasing one (or a dozen) for the kiddos in our lives? For this, we’ve turned to Caitlin Sanschagrin, an occupational therapist and co-founder of Bright SpOT Pediatric Therapy serving Texas’ greater Austin area.
Choosing Age-Appropriate Fidget Toys
First and foremost, consider who the fidget toy is for.
“The purpose of fidget [and] sensory toys for toddlers is sensory exploration,” Sanschagrin says. “[They] are learning about the world through their environment, and offering them various sensory experiences encourages them to learn in different ways.” At this stage in development, she recommends sensory-based toys that have multiple textures, high-contrast colors, or even fun sounds, like crinkle paper.
Fidget toys for elementary-aged children are used more for regulation. “This means that fidgets can be a tool to either ‘wake up’ your body [and] brain or to calm yourself down,” she says. For this age range, she says the biggest benefit comes from toys that encourage more movement and strong sensory feedback. Kids might use more concentration while playing with these toys and often focus more on the toy itself.
“Additionally, fidgets that provide a sense of deep pressure, compression—or as we occupational therapists call it, proprioceptive input—would be a great option,” Sanschagrin says. “This would include things that make the child’s hands work hard by squeezing, pinching, stretching apart, or pushing the fidget.”
Teens and adults use fidget toys for regulation as well, Sanschagrin says, but tend to use smaller ones that are both fun and easily used while focusing on other activities. “Consider fidgets that would be inconspicuous when held in their hands or even fidgets that can be manipulated using only one hand,” she says. “These are the more traditional forms of fidgets, like the classic fidget spinner that was popular a few years ago.”
Sanschagrin recommends occasionally rotating fidgets, as kids tend to go through phases of what they like, and this will help renew their interest in their toys. “Also keep in mind the goal or what function you want to fidget to serve prior to purchasing,” she says. “If your child really likes the fidget using their fingers, a fidget snake is more likely to land rather than a squeeze ball.” Overall, though, she says fidget preference simply depends on the person, and parents should be open to trial and error.
How We Evaluated
To figure out which fidget toys would make the cut, I asked for recommendations from other parents, as well as from Sanschagrin, who uses fidgets in her occupational therapy practice. I also tested a few out and allowed my 7-year-old to test some, too. I read through countless reviews on various retail sites to see which ones consumers recommend, making sure to note which reviews were independent versus ones that were in exchange for free products, to reduce bias. After careful deliberation, these are the best fidget toys for all ages and a variety of purposes.
- Age Range: 3–12
- Features: Includes different shapes and soft, light builds are easy to take anywhere
Everyone seems to have one of these pop it fidget toys these days, and they come in a wide assortment of shapes and colors. Although there are many, I liked the simplicity of these rainbow ones—which I happen to have at home as well. Brightly colored but quiet overall, it’s a simple fidget toy that can be used mostly to relax and de-stress.
- Easy to use
- Very portable
- Due to their larger size and eye-catching colors, tweens and teens might not be as wild about using these
- Age Range: 12 and older
- Features: Stack and pair together in various ways and can use as a fidget spinner
This popular Amazon fidget toy comes in a number of cool designs that will appeal to the individuality of tweens and teens. Wear one and spin it on your finger, or stack them together in different ways. You can even mix and match them with friends. And despite being engaging enough on their own, you can also use them while focusing on other work.
- Easy to use in a variety of ways
- Caters to individual tastes with fun designs
- Bulky and not as discreet as some other fidgets
- Age Range: 1–10
- Features: Engages multiple senses and connects to other pop tubes
Kiddos can play with a single one of these pop tubes and make shapes and letter with them or connect them to turn them into larger creations. Squeeze ’em tight or pull them out, and you’ll hear some fun, satisfying sounds. They’re small enough to carry around in a pocket or bag for fidgety emergencies while away from home.
- Excellent for kids who like noisier fidgets
- Hard to use once they get bent (or chewed on, as one reviewer with a toddler commented)
- Age Range: 8 and older
- Features: Great for squeezing, pulling, squishing, and smushing
Stress balls have existed for a long while, but these “globs” provide the added input of being stretched and pulled and smushed as well, making for a more satisfying experience. The added color-changing experience can also help engage younger kiddos, but it’s a toy that a teen would still happily use without feeling immature. Although the company recommends NeeDoh for ages 3 and up, we increased that age in the event an unsupervised child thinks to bite into it (which we don’t recommend).
- Fun, bright colors
- Smooth texture
- Most reviewers love these, but some report they don’t hold up to long-term or aggressive use
- Age Range: 3 and older
- Features: Three colormix tubes offer a calming sensory experience to reduce anxiety
These three tubes come in a variety of colors that mix together as your child turns them over. It’s not a fidget toy that will get as much mileage as some others, but it does help greatly in assisting overwhelmed and anxious littles to slow their breathing and heart rate while they enjoy the swirling colors.
- Great for quickly reducing anxiety in kids
- Might not become their favorite fidget as it doesn’t have multiple uses
- Age Range: 1 and older
- Features: Keychain loop attaches to house keys, bags, backpacks, and more
Sanschagrin says pea poppers are all the rage right now for increasing attention and allowing for sensory exploration. This adorable Amazon Choice fidget toy definitely puts a smile on my and my own kiddo’s face, as well. It’s both fun and cute enough for elementary-aged kiddos, but the keychain design is still discreet enough for tweens and even teens.
- Keychain design lends secure portability
- Very soothing to play with
- A small percentage of reviewers said theirs broke sooner than expected, so there might be inconsistencies in manufacturing
- Age Range: 6–12 months
- Features: Top attachment loop and multiple arms with different colors, shapes, plus rattle and crinkle noises
This multi-sensory toy will become your baby’s best friend on car trips, stroller rides, or even just hanging out in their playpen. In fact, it was my own son’s favorite toy for at least his first year of life. Bright contrasting colors and a silly face keep littles smiling, while different textures, shapes, loops, sounds, and even a small hidden mirror keep hold of their attention.
- Engaging design keeps babies fidgeting and busy
- Attaches to strollers, car seats, and more so it doesn’t fall to the ground (as much)
- Likely needs frequent cleaning from all the use it’ll get on trips outside your home
- Age Range: 18 months–3 years
- Features: Six ways to fidget and lightweight, compact design for on-the-go play
An Amazon Choice product, Spike is an adorable little friend for youngsters who seek sensory input by way of turning cranks, spinning wheels, pushing buttons, and more. It’s lightweight and easy to take on long (dull) car trips so your little one can get their fidgets out tantrum-free.
- Cute design with plenty of features to keep kids involved
- Older kiddos within the age range might get bored with it faster
- Age Range: 12 and older
- Features: Snap-and-click style provides satisfying sensory input via sound and touch
This fidget snap-and-click “snake” toy is the perfect combination of fun and functional. With bright colors and a near-endless number of ways to move, shape, and play, it’s no wonder Sanchagrin says many older kids have success using this particular toy.
- Multipacks are great in case your kid easily loses their fidgets
- Might be difficult for younger kids to manipulate
- Pieces might come loose making them a potential choking hazard
- Age Range: 10 and older
- Features: Double-pendulum design causes random spinning and stainless steel build is durable yet lightweight
This classy-looking fidget spinner is excellent for teens who want a less childish-looking fidget that can hold their attention a long while. The double-pendulum design keeps teens focused while they work out a problem mentally or when they need a break from homework.
- Sleek design will appeal to older kids and teens who might want a sophisticated look to their toy
- Random spinning keeps the mind guessing and focused
- A bit pricey for one small fidget spinner